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.

June 18, 2010

Lebanon Debates Palestinian Refugee Rights

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Human rights,Lebanon,Palestinian refugees — quinnconnors @ 1:39 pm

In recent weeks, the media has focused on the plight of blockaded Gazans. Amidst the international outcry resulting from the Gaza flotilla raid, a potential change in the fate of another group of Palestinians has gone largely unnoticed. Tuesday, after 62 years of waiting, legislation proposing basic rights for the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon made the committee stage in Parliament.

The proposed legislation, which was passed onto the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, would grant Palestinian refugees the right to work and to own property in Lebanon. Currently, Palestinian refugees are barred from more than 50 professions, including medicine, law and teaching, and are prohibited from property ownership due to a law limiting land possession to “people with identification documents issued by a recognized country”. Such labor and property laws severely limit the economic and social opportunities of the Palestinian refugees who, for the majority, still reside in UNRWA camps after fleeing their homes in the 1948 and subsequent conflicts. (more…)

June 17, 2010

Double Standards

Helen Thomas’ misinterpreted remarks about Jews in Palestine led to the end of her accomplished career.  Meanwhile, Senator Schumer of New York is allowed to say he supports the continued “economic strangulation” of Gaza, without anyone even blinking twice.

Schumer is a powerful politician; he is the vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.  His position in the government makes the fact that he can make such comments without press coverage or any sort of accountability is especially perturbing.

Schumer, speaking at the Orthodox Union, went on to blame the identity of Palestinians for their situation:  “Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution… They don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Both of these statements are blatantly false, as most Palestinians support a two-state solution, and Muslims consider the Torah a holy book and David a prophet.  He also blames Gazans for the actions of Hamas, and states that they can only have economic advancement  “when there’s some moderation and cooperation.” (more…)

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

Investigation into Gaza Raid

Israel has rejected UN demands for an external probe of the Gaza raid, and instead has announced that it is to administer an internal investigation.  Israel, trying to somewhat appease the international community, has added “two foreign observers” to the commission.  The observers include Irish Nobel Prize laureate David Trimble, and Canada’s former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces Ken Watkin.  David Trimble, one of the “foreign observers,” recently joined a Friends of Israel group.  If Israel is to include outsiders in the internal probe, it should at least let them be chosen by an external party.  The “observers” should also have an active participating role; simply observing the commission and not offering their input seems futile.  The structure of the commission is inhibiting in other ways as well.  The commission must use summaries of the events, as soldiers cannot be directly questioned.  It can ask for more information if not satisfied, though there is no guarantee they will receive more information (BBC).

The purposes of the commission are to: examine the “security circumstances” of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law, decide if the actions of May 31st, conform to the principles of international law, and consider the actions of those who organized and took part in the flotilla “and their identities” (BBC).  The last requirement, not surprisingly, shifts the focus away from Israel and tries to make them the victims.  This culture of victimization and no sense of accountability will no doubt result in another travesty of justice. (more…)

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 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 7, 2010

An Abused Generation

Over 100 imprisoned Palestinian children have reported that they were mistreated by the IDF while in custody.  The Palestinian section of the Geneva-based human rights group, Defence for Children International (DCI), has collected the affidavits and is asking the UN to probe the assaults.

The testimonies of the minors follow a fixed pattern.  The minors reported that they were beaten, verbally abused, blindfolded, coerced into confession, threatened, and some even reported sexual abuse.  Indeed, 97% were handcuffed for long periods of time, 92% were blindfolded for long periods of time, and 69% were beaten.  You can click here for the full list of statistics. (more…)

Leaders Around the World Focus their Attention on Israel

Several days after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship headed for Gaza, heads of state around the world are focusing their attention towards investigating the events of May 31 and working towards ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been very vocal in condemning Israeli actions after the death of several Turkish citizens, has made a statement calling for the formation of an international investigation. According to Erdogan, the acceptance of such an investigation would be the only way to better Israeli-Turkish relations. He went on to say that if Israel refused an international investigation that, “it means that they are hiding some facts.” In addition, Prime Minister Erdogan has been reported to be considering a trip to Gaza aboard a Turkish Naval vessel. While this has caused some in Israel to threaten violence at another attempt to breach the blockade, the official tone is much more moderate and IDF leaders have made statements essentially telling their colleagues to calm down. (more…)

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