Sunday, 5 February 2017

Middle East Peace Conference in Paris

Paris Middle East Peace Summit:
Two-State Solution is the only Way - Hollande

Dr. Mozammel Haque

One-day Middle East Peace Summit was held in Paris, capital of France, on Sunday, 15th of January, 2017. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has delivered a speech on Israeli Settlements and Two State solution on 28 December, 2016. Commenting on the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris, The Guardian editorially observed on 29 December, 2016 before the Summit: “Mr Kerry’s speech is better late than never; its symbolic effect is better than none. The international community should reaffirm its commitment to the two-state solution when foreign ministers from 70 countries meet at a Middle East peace conference in Paris on 15 January. No one has a better plan. But no one expects all this to revive the process. It is about attempting to prevent a sharp turn for the worse, and if necessary to allow something to be salvaged in a post-Trump era.” (The Guardian’s View on the US and Israel: Late, but necessary, editorial, 29 December, 2016)

One-day Middle East Peace Summit in Paris:
Two-state solution is the only Possible Solution
A one-day Middle East Peace Summit was held in Paris, capital of France, on Sunday, 15th of January 2017, hosted by France and attended by representatives from 70 countries, including 40 Foreign Ministers. The Summit was also attended by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as key European and Arab states. The Conference was also attended by the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry who travelled from Vietnam to be at the meeting. This makes the Paris conference importance because its decisions will make the international community shoulder its responsibilities in order to achieve justice for the Palestinian people.

Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of the Guardian reported, “The list of attendees released by the French Foreign Ministry to the long-planned conference includes 36 Foreign Ministers, as well as Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the Secretary General of the Arab League, and the EU Foreign Affairs representative, Federica Mogherini. The list includes the German Foreign Minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, as well as the Irish, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish and Swedish Foreign Ministers. In total, 74 delegations were scheduled to attend the conference and hear a speech by the French President, François Hollande.”

“Rigged and futile” that is how the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris which was trying to bring peace between Israel and Palestinians. Delegates from 70 countries met in Paris to jump up and reaffirmed the two-state solution is the only possible way to bring peace in the region. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French initiative. In recent years, they have campaigned for the international community to assume a greater role in resolving the conflict. Netanyahu dismissed the talk. He said only the bilateral talks have chance to bring peace and to be successful. French Foreign Minister said the two-state solution is the only possible way to ensure peace in the region.  Abbas is expected to visit France in the coming weeks.

Aims and Objectives of the Summit
French President Francois Hollande said the conference aims to ensure the support of the international community for the two-state solution as a reference for future direct negotiations. “I can’t accept the status quo, letting people think that the conflict would resolve itself. It’s not true. That’s why France took the initiative of a conference on the Middle East,” Hollande said. “The objective is to reaffirm the support of the international community to the two-state solution and ensure that this solution remains the reference. But I see that has weakened, on the ground and in the minds (of people). If we let it decay, it would be a risk for the security of Israel.”

Opening Speech by French President:
Two-State Solution is the only Way - Hollande
In his speech to open the meeting, French President Francois Hollande said the international community had to be reminded of its obligations to build peace. “The naivety is to believe that the much-needed reconciliation between Israel and its neighbours can go forward without peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “And the cynicism is to sink into the status quo, hoping the situation would find a natural solution as a result of all excesses.”

A "two-state solution" of a Palestinian country alongside Israel has long been endorsed by both sides but there are sharply divergent visions as to the type of state which should emerge. Israel rejects international involvement in the peace process, saying an agreement can only come through direct talks.

Final Communique: Summit
Warns against unilateral actions
Some 70 countries on Sunday, the 15th of January 2017 reaffirmed at the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians could resolve the conflict and warned that they would not recognise any unilateral steps taken by either side that could prejudge negotiations. The conference in Paris warned Israel and Palestinians against “unilateral steps” on Jerusalem and borders that could threaten a two-state solution.

The one-day summit came to a close on Sunday evening with a joint declaration, backed by the 70 countries, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to restate their commitment to a peace settlement and to refrain from unilateral actions.

The statement urged both sides to “officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution” and disassociate from voices that reject that goal. It also called for them not to take one-sided actions that could preclude fruitful talks.

In a statement, the conference called on them to avoid steps that “prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees.” It also said the pre-1967 war borders should provide the basis for negotiations, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

The final communiqué of a one-day international Middle East Peace Summit in Paris shied away explicitly from criticizing plans by US President-elect Donald Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but said a new conference would be held by year-end for interested parties.

Final Communiqué of the Paris Summit
Palestinian response to the Communiqué
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Sunday night: “It’s a message to Israel, the occupying power, to abide by international law and international humanitarian law and to end its military occupation of Palestine towards the achievement of peace and stability in the region and the world”  “It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a country above the law and to hold it accountable for its systematic violations of international law and the rights of our people,” he added.

Erekat called upon France and other participating nations “to immediately recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.” “We also call upon all participating countries in today’s conference, including European countries and the United States of America, which all have continuously supported the importance of the two-state solution as the only viable solution, to recognize Palestine, in line with their recognition of Israel and their strong position to preserve the two-state solution,” he said.

President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement Sunday, 15th of January 2017 that “Palestine respects the Paris declaration” along with international law, international decisions, and UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The Palestinian President said the final joint declaration issued by the participants of the Paris peace conference “affirms” the terms of Security Council resolution, according to the PA’s official news site Wafa.

“Palestine is ready to resume negotiations on all final status issues, to create a full and lasting peace through the framework of an international mechanism and a specific timeframe along international parameters, the Madrid principles, the Arab Peace Initiative, Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Paris declaration,” he said.

“Just as Security Council Resolution No. 2334 affirmed the international and legal parameters, international decisions and the two-state solution, based on 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, so too, the Paris announcement affirmed all the international parameters, including the principles of international law, and rejected all the unilateral measures, settlement construction and the imposition of facts on the ground, including in Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Critical Analysis
Analysts and commentators expressed scepticism at the relevance of the Paris summit. Alain Gresh, a journalist from France's Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, said the initiative was launched in response to the French parliament vote in December 2014 to officially recognise the State of Palestine, which failed to come to fruition. “The then-foreign minister Laurent Fabius said they wouldn't recognise it, but that they'd try a diplomatic initiative. And if this initiative was to fail, they'd recognise Palestine. But little by little, this talk of recognition disappeared,” said Gresh. (Al-Jazeera)

Francois Burgat, a political scientist and author, said if the French government wanted to meaningfully bring about peace; it could have taken a harder line with Israel as the occupying power.

While no Palestinian officials attended the Paris meeting, Husam Zomlot - ambassador at large for the Palestinian government - told Al Jazeera the French peace initiative was a  “a crucial step to reaffirm the international consensus about the Palestinian cause - that is a cause of foreign military occupation that must end”. The two-state solution, agreed on in the 1993 Oslo accords, has been largely lost with negotiations between the two sides broken off by ever-increasing Israeli settlement activity and violence carried out by both sides. The settlements are considered illegal under international law and were denounced last month by the passing of a UN Security Council resolution, which was vehemently castigated by Israeli officials. (Al-Jazeera)

Speaking about the prospects of the Two-state solution, Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General, Palestine National Initiative, said to Insight Story programme at Al-Jazeera: “We have to remember that the Oslo Agreement have been concluded more than 23 years ago and according to that agreement both sides have to finish negotiating issues and the Palestinian state would have been established after six years in 1999. We already passed that date by 17 years during which time Israel has increased the number of illegal settlements from one hundred thousands settlers to more than 760,000 settlers today and so many new settlements. This is a very dangerous path. I think Ben White was very clear and very correct when he said you cannot equate between the Israelis and the Palestinians – one side is occupying the other, one side is oppressing the other. Israel has created not only the longer occupation in modern history almost 50 years but has created already a system of apartheid, a system of racial discrimination and it is killing every opportunity for peace.”

“In reality, we see the Israeli government does want one thing – more time to finish the process of settlements, more time to kill the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, more time to kill the possibility of hope for the future,” said Barghouti. (Insight Story, Al-Jazeera, 15 January, 2017)

Ben White, freelance journalist, writer, researcher, human rights activist, specializing on Palestine, said to the same programme to Al-Jazeera about the outcome of the Summit: “Lots of assumptions of this conference are shaped by the same assumptions that govern the so-called peace process and there has been primarily US and the European-led Quartet and that peace process has been going on about half of the entire 50 years that Israel has been occupying West Bank and Gaza Strip and the problem that peace process that reflected in the gathering today. It imposed a false symmetry on occupier and occupied implied that they have mutual responsibilities and obligations and the peace process also serves to immunize Israel from accountability in the international fora and in terms of its end goal, which is increasingly explicit, the end goal of preserving Israel as a Jewish state.”

“Today’s conference is reflecting that framework. I am quite pessimistic about what will emerge from it (Paris Summit),” White said. (Insight Story, Al-Jazeera, 15 January, 2017)

However, still there is a good sign that of the 193 UN member states, 137 officially acknowledge Palestine as an independent state.

President Donald Trump and
His Middle East Policy
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive and complex issues of the entire conflict. Israel and Palestinian cannot agree on the future status of Jerusalem. The Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state but Israel proclaims the entire city as its capital.

Move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
The conference in Paris comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and there are fears President Donald Trump's plans (President Trump said as a President-elect before 15 January 2017) to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could stoke it further. There was deep alarm among participants at the conference that if President Trump does break with decades of US policy and move the embassy to Jerusalem, then conditions will be set for another upsurge in violence in the region, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

John Irish, Lesley Wroughton and Marine Pennetier reported from Paris that Trump has pledged to pursue more pro-Israeli policies and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all but enshrining the city as Israel's capital despite international objections.

It is also reported that tensions are very high because of the appointment of pro-settlement hard-liner David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel which carries with it terrifying prospects. On the other hand, Patrick Wintour reported: “His (President-elect Donald Trump) nominee as Defence secretary, James Mattis, has said he sees no case for changing the way in which the US is represented in Israel.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France 3 TV on Sunday, the 15th of January, 2017, he thought Mr Trump would not be able to make the move, but if he did, it would have "extremely serious consequences". On Saturday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned such a move could “bury the hopes for a two-state solution”.

The participants in the Paris Summit “call on each side ... to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final-status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize," the final communiqué said.
(Prepared on 18th of January 2017)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Israeli Settlements as illegal - UNSC Resolution

Israeli Settlements as illegal:
UN Security Council Resolution

Dr. Mozammel Haque

It is now 2017; the world has completed hundred years since 1917 when the international community witnessed some terrible events around 1917. In the backdrop of international politics, there was First World War; fall and decline of the Ottoman Empire, Bolshevik Communist Revolution of 1917 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Now, in 2017, the international surrounding is different: new political climate, new political environment and a new stage set. But in between 1917 and 2017, there was Second World War, birth of the United Nations and the passing of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution partitioning Palestine and creating state of Israel in 1948.

Now in the 21st century, at the beginning of 2017, again there is a new international political climate and new environment. The whole Middle East is on turmoil; there is so-called Arab Spring. Largest number of Syrian people became homeless, millions displaced and refugees in the Syrian war. Russia is playing the role of mediator in the Syrian war and becoming a power in the Middle East after Second World War. For the first time, America remained absent and allowed the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The new American Administration under President Donald Trump is going to take a direct pro-Israel policy and Britain has openly and directly declared its Brexit policy. It is now interesting to see how things will take shape in the coming days and years in the world, especially in Palestine. Future is unpredictable; because it depends on human actions.

In this paper, there are three main issues of concern or the area of dispute, which are worrying the mind of peace-lovers as well as peace-makers of the world. These are hurdles creating obstacles on the way to bring peace in the Middle East. These are primarily, or firstly, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine territory; secondly the issue of two-state solution and thirdly, the future status of Jerusalem.

So far as the Israeli settlements on the occupied Palestine territory is concerned, the 15-member UN Security Council 14-0 vote passed Resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016 condemning more Israeli settlements on occupied Palestine territory and declared it as illegal. It voted to halt Israeli settlement activity.

Paris Middle East Peace Summit comes on the heels of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution last month that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. Delegates of 70 countries attending the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris on 15th of January 2017 reaffirmed that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians could resolve Israeli-Palestine conflict and warned that they would not recognise any unilateral steps taken by either side that prejudge negotiations.

The idea or the dream of the so-called ‘Two-state solution’ to end the decades-old conflict  has been set out in UN resolutions going back to the mid-‘70s, driving diplomatic efforts that culminated in the breakthrough 1993 Oslo Accords. But after many rounds of failed peace talks, it looks increasingly in jeopardy. The Middle East Peace Process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014. The last round of direct peace talks collapsed amid acrimony in April 2014. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, abandoned his efforts to broker peace talks in 2014. The Paris Summit taking place on 15th of January, 2017, in France was trying to signal to Israel and the next US President that establishing a Palestinian state is the only path to peace.

As regards the future status of Jerusalem is concerned, both sides want Jerusalem as future capitals of their state. Another complication is US President-elect Donald Trump. Trump wants US embassy moved to Jerusalem. Just to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; when he becomes the US President on 20 January, 2017.

In the following pages, Israeli Settlements in the occupied Palestine territory and the role of UN Security Council is dealt with.

Israeli Settlements as Illegal: UN
Security Council Resolution 2334
This is the first time in the history of the UN Security Council nearly unanimous resolution on the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine territory was passed. The 15-member Security Council voted 14-0 passed the Resolution 2334 on Friday, 23rd of December 2016 with US ambassador Samantha Power raising her hand as the lone abstention. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, that was approved by 14 countries — Britain, Russia, China, France, Egypt and Spain among them — with the US abstaining; affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements.

Friday’s Resolution was put forward by nations in four different parts of the world: Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, taking place just a day after Egypt withdrew it following significant pressure from both Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump. It is the first resolution on Israeli settlements to pass in 36 years, Malaysia’s UN Ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim said. Despite an effort led by Israel and backed by US President-elect Donald Trump to block the text, in a rare and momentous step, the United States abstained from Friday’s vote, enabling the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 demands, “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem.” It says Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution” that would see an independent Palestine co-exist alongside Israel .It demanded a halt to such activities for the sake of “salvaging the two-state solution.” Loud applause erupted in the council chamber after US Ambassador Samantha Power permitted the resolution to pass. The text was passed with support from all remaining members of the 15-member council.

Most of the world is opposed to Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements in lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East War. The primary holdout at the UN has been the United States, which sees settlements as illegitimate but has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to block such resolutions on the grounds that Israeli-Palestinian disputes should be addressed through negotiation.

Explaining the US vote, Power quoted a 1982 statement from then-US President Ronald Reagan, which declared that Washington “will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements.” “That has been the policy of every administration, Republican and Democrat, since before President Reagan and all the way through to the present day,” Power said. Settlement activity, she added, “harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank and another 200,000 Israelis live in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

Reactions and Response
Israel and Palestinians
Israel rejects UN Security Council Resolution 2334 vote, recalls envoy to resolution sponsors; Palestinians welcome the UNSC vote
Jordan praises the historic UN Resolution. Jordan on Saturday, 24th of December 2016 welcomed the “historic” UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlements, saying the momentous vote paved a way for a two-state solution, reported by Sinem Cengiz. “This historic decision expresses the consensus of the international community on the illegality of Israeli settlements and reaffirms the Palestinian people’s historic right (to live) in Jerusalem and its historic lands,” Jordan’s information minister Mohammad Al-Momani said Saturday.

Momani said the resolution reinforced the historic position of Jordan — one of the few Arab states to have diplomatic ties with Israel — on the need for a two state solution.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office voiced anger. “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” it said. Israeli Prime Minister became “furious” on the US abstention on a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Netanyahu immediately recalled Israel’s ambassadors from two of the resolution’s sponsors, New Zealand and Senegal, and given the ambassadors of all other Security Council member states — including the US — a dressing down. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with either Malaysia or Venezuela.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas called the resolution a “big blow for Israeli policies.” The move was “an international and unanimous condemnation of settlements and strong support for the two-state solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP. Saeb Erekat, a former peace negotiator and the number two in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), spoke of a “historic day.” “December 23 is a historic day and a victory for international legitimacy, international law and international documents,” said Erekat, reported by Mike Smith on 24 December, 2016.

Impact and Effect
About the impact and effect of the Resolution expert has different opinions. Experts that spoke to the Jeddah-based English daily Arab News agree that Resolution 2334 is a slap to Israel, for being the first legal text in 36 years to consider settlements constructed in areas occupied after the 1967 war and include East Jerusalem, with “no legal validity.” Though, the impact of the UN Security Council on the conflict could be minimal and it may push Obama’s successor Donald Trump towards a more pro-Israel stance after he takes office, reported by Joyce Karam.

Joyce Karam also reported, “Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. and Quartet official who worked on the Palestinian-Israeli issue until 2010 interprets the U.S. abstention as consistent with Obama’s approach. “The UN vote is a microcosm of the past eight years with the Obama administration” Danin says.”

The vast support for the vote at the UN Security Council is a sign of “a more isolated Israel on the international stage” says Yousef Munayyer, the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.  At the same time, Munayyer sees little impact for the new resolution on the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “President Obama has given us the autopsy, but the cause of death is clear; Israeli settlement building.”

Experts also said it could immediately backfire. Hussein Ibish expects that “it will probably help push them (President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli PM Netanyahu) together and prompt more Israeli settlement activity with less US opposition” contending that “it's hard to see a positive outcome on the ground as a consequence.”

Positive and negative side of the Resolution
The positive side of the resolution is it enshrines the world’s disapproval of the settlements. A reversal would require a follow-up vote that avoids a veto from the US, Britain, China, France or Russia — a highly unlikely scenario given the current stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Talking about the positive side of the resolution, Ben White, freelance journalist, writer, researcher, human rights activist, specializing on Palestine, told Al-Jazeera: There is nothing new to the substance of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed long-standing positions of the international community, including previous UNSC resolutions, about the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, notes the significance of paragraph 5, which calls on "all States … to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967". This, she told Al-Jazeera, "is effectively a call to cease trade, economic and financial transactions with the settlements". This is likely to boost growing efforts to subject Israel to various forms of boycotts, including the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign - especially since, as Hijab notes, "the settlements are an integral part of the Israeli economy".

Channel 2 journalist Meron Rapoport told Al-Jazeera, noting that while it is not clear what tangible impact it will have on Israel, the resolution "will surely limit Israel's freedom of manoeuvre".

It remains an open question, therefore, whether this resolution will lead to meaningful pressure on the Netanyahu government. While the vote in New York certainly constituted a diplomatic defeat for Israel, exactly what sort of victory it represents for the Palestinians remains to be seen, wrote Ben White in Al-Jazeera.

While writing in Al-Jazeera, Geoffrey Aronson, a specialist on Middle East Affairs, observed: The UN Settlement Resolution is too little and too late. “The international community has done nothing of substance in almost 50 years to constrain Israel's appetite for new territory in Palestinian areas conquered in June 1967,” he said and added, “UNSC Resolution 2334 joins an undistinguished list of long-forgotten efforts to end occupation and settlement, and more broadly to create a Palestinian state and fix Israel's place as an accepted and acknowledged part of the region.”

The same opinion was expressed by Linda S. Heard, an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs:”Israel’s settlement expansion across the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been censured by a Security Council resolution, but like so many others it will be filed away to gather dust. All it has achieved is to poke the bear into a rampage."

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of Let us see how he is evaluating the passing of the UN Security Council Resolution condemning the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

What makes this particular resolution important? Baroud questioned and immediately replied, “First, the US neither vetoed the resolution nor threatened to use its veto power. Nor did it even seriously lobby, as it often does, to soften the wording in advance. Second, it is the first decisive and clear condemnation of Israel by the UNSC in nearly eight years — almost the entirety of US President Barack Obama’s terms in office. Third, the vote took place despite extraordinary Israeli pressure on the Obama administration, the forthcoming one of Donald Trump, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Indeed, Egypt delayed the vote, before New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela stepped up and put the resolution to a vote a day later.”

At the same time, he did not forget to mention: “Doubtless, the UN resolution — like all others — remains rather symbolic as long as there are no practical mechanisms to ensure the enforcement of international law. Not only will Israel not respect the UN’s will, it is already accelerating its settlement activities in defiance of that will.”

But there is some good sign in it: He said, “The resolution is a further affirmation that the international community is unconditionally on the side of Palestinians and, despite all the failures of the past, still advocates respect for international law.” (This article was published in Arab News)

The Guardian View On the US and Israel:
Late, but necessary – Editorial
Though there are both positive and negative aspects of the resolution and its impact and effect on the ground, The Guardian editorially observed:
 “The last-ditch intervention in the Israel-Palestine conflict by Barack Obama’s administration is imbued with a sense of eleventh-hour desperation. It is still worth assessing on its merits. Benjamin Netanyahu, settler movement leaders and others have already dismissed John Kerry’s speech on Wednesday as hostile to Israel, just as they did the UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to all settlement in the occupied territories. But, as many within Israel and the Jewish diaspora have made clear, that is unfair. True, they are anti-settlement, anti-occupation and, in the case of Wednesday’s remarks, anti-Netanyahu – but also pro-Israel. As the US secretary of state observed, the growth of settlements is destroying the two-state solution, for so long viewed as the best way to defend Israel.” (The Guardian, editorial, 29 December, 2016)

Friday, 6 January 2017

Syria's Slaughter Shames Us all

Syria’s Slaughter Shames Us All:
Aleppo is now synonym for hell - Ban Ki-moon

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Syria ceasefire deal was reached on Thursday, the 29th of December 2016 after six-year devastating Syria’s war which destroyed the civilian infrastructure of Syria, displaced about half of the pre-war population of the country, 6.6 million internally, killed or wounded an estimated 2.3 million people, 11.5 percent of the country’s population, and made 4.6 millions to seek refuge in the neighbouring countries and fewer than 1 million to seek refuge in Europe (EU and Balkans). The Syrian war which came to an end through ceasefire deal was brokered by Russia and Turkey. The interesting aspect is the complete absence of the United States of America. But independent critics and analysts raised the question whether the Syrian war is truly going to end. They are not optimistic. They raised this question because in the ceasefire deal there are not all the parties and players on the truce table. Neither the regional players nor all the rebels are in the ceasefire agreement. So, what is the future of the Syrian war?

But the repetition of Srebrenica-like genocide and war crimes in Aleppo shames us all and everyone, whether we are from the east or from the west; some are acknowledging openly and loudly through their statements and through raising their voices against atrocities and carnage and others are still to come forward.

Background of Aleppo
Aleppo, once Syria’s second city, the largest metropolis and the industrial hub, was the rebels’ last big urban stronghold since 2011 and is seen as crucial in the outcome of Syria’s five-year war. There is historic Old City, a once-glorious UNESCO heritage site where there was famous 11th century Umayyad mosque of Aleppo. With 2 million people, Aleppo is 6,000 years old and has treasured Islamic civilisation and artefacts within it. Its 1,000-year-old Muslim heritage ‘has turned to dust’ Economist observed. Aleppo used to be a city of over two million, as mentioned earlier, but with so much fighting and displacement, it is impossible to say with any precision how many people are left today.

Syria’s Civil Uprising
Let us see how it started five years ago in 2011 and how it comes to the present catastrophic stage is an alarming story. From a local issue it turned into regional problem to a level of international crisis where there are Iran and Russia on one side and the regional Arab countries and US and Europe on the other.

In March 2011 the protests turned into things escalated. First month of the struggle, the protests were peaceful. But gradually it became violent and hostile. People were running away for their lives from oppression, persecution and torture. The Old City remained a centre of gravity for the opposition since its fighters – a combination of Aleppo locals and residents of the surrounding countryside - overran security forces in July 2012.  Aleppo, once the largest city of Syria, has been divided between opposition control in the eastern half and government control in the west since mid-2012.

Political game players
In the Syrian civil war there were many players with diverse agendas.  These powers included the US and Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the Gulf countries. David Gardner wrote in The Financial Times: “These external actors in Syria have signally failed to secure the integrity of the country or mitigate the suffering of a people who have seen up to 500,000 killed and half the population scattered to the winds.”

“But what is truly important about what we have just seen in Aleppo is that the outside allies of the armed opposition to Assad - Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, in a somewhat different category, the US - have not come to the rescue of the rebels whom they have previously supported.”
As I mentioned earlier, President Putin of Russia and President Erdogan of Turkey have backed opposing sides in Syria since the uprising began in 2011, with Ankara sponsoring various rebel groups and hosting Syria’s political opposition in-exile, and the Kremlin lending extensive military support to President Assad, reported in The Guardian.

Russia and Iran allied in Syria and they helped their client Assad in every possible way leading to air power and ground forces. Russia and Iran “together they have kept their client Bashar al-Assad at the head of a rump state, which nearly succumbed to a mainly Sunni rebellion on three occasions since Damascus declared war on what began as a civic uprising against tyranny in 2011.”

Humanitarian Crisis -Refugees
As early as in 2013, the humanitarian situation in Syria was deteriorating steadily. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and millions of others have been displaced from their home seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Aijaz Syed, a Gulf-based writer wrote in 2013: “Syria is burning and it needs to be saved. Now. And it doesn’t matter who comes to its rescue and what their motives are as long as precious lives are saved. A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Syria. The world can no longer stand and stare. It’s time to put an end to this disastrous, all-consuming conflict”.
In 2013, UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged European countries to do more for Syrian refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed concern about serious gaps in the protection of Syrians arriving in Europe and urged a more generous and consistent approach to Syrians seeking shelter and asylum in Europe, reported on 18 July 2013.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, almost half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their home and flee for their lives in search of safety. Now nearly one million displaced Syrian’s and Iraqi’s are in need of winter aid to survive the coming months.  Some 800,000 people, many who fled their homes in horror with just the clothes on their backs, are in need of shelter assistance, while 940,000 lack basic winter household items.

9.6 million of the country’s pre-war population of about 21 million about 3.2 million are now living as refugees in the neighbouring countries. Another 6.4 million are displaced even remained 190,000 numbers of Syrian families are in a very shocking state, exhausted and scarred.

Europe Response
After five years of Syrian conflict, refugee crisis remained the main debating issue for the European countries. EU countries have spent all year debating and procrastinating about an appropriate solution to Europe’s biggest refugee movement since the World War II. And lastly, to put things in perspective: Europe may be quailing at the numbers trying to get in, but it is as nothing compared to the numbers that Syria’s neighbours have been dealing with.

Western powers busy with refugee issue
Europe did not take any action which resulted in refugee crisis at the beginning. Not only that, Europe was busy with the ‘symptoms of the problem—the refugees—and not on the causes’. In August 2013, there was a parliamentary debate on Syria in the UK Parliament but it could not reach an agreement. Speaking about the refugee crisis, former UK Chancellor George Osborne mentioned in UK Parliament on 13 December 2016, “We did not intervene in Syria, and tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result while millions of refugees have been sent from their homes across the world. We have allowed a terrorist state to emerge in the form of ISIS, which we are now trying to defeat. Key allies such as Lebanon and Jordan are destabilised, and the refugee crisis has transformed the politics of Europe, allowing fascism to rise in eastern Europe and creating extremist parties in western Europe.”
While introducing an emergency debate on international action to protect civilians in Aleppo in the UK Parliament on 13 December 2016, Mr Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative Member for Sutton-Coldfield and co-chair the friends of Syria All Party Group,  said: “I was listing the unfortunate coincidence of events that has hobbled the international community, the fourth of which is that the Arab states in the region are irredeemably split on what should happen in Syria. Europe has become dysfunctional, facing inwards and not looking outwards, and focused on the symptoms of the problem—the refugees—and not on the causes. A resurgent Russia is pursuing its interests.”

Fall of Aleppo – Backed by Russian airpower
Backed by Russian airpower, Syrian government forces were bombarding the rebel-held Aleppo since September. On Wednesday, 7th of December 2016, residents said Assad forces captured the rebel-held section of the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Syrian government forces and the allied militias retake almost three quarters of rebel-controlled territory late Tuesday night. Bethan McKernan wrote in The Independent: “A siege since August and sustained ground and aerial offensive on east Aleppo since September -which has intensified in the last two weeks -has left hundreds of people dead, decimated the area's medical facilities, and left 250,000 civilians on the brink of starvation as winter sets in."

The carnage in Syria could have been halted if the Western powers which encouraged the rebels when they first took up arms against Damascus five years ago, seized proper steps at proper time. Con Coughlin commented in Daily Telegraph, “And yet, rather than doing everything in their power to halt the carnage, Western powers like Britain and America, which encouraged the rebels when they first took up arms against Damascus five years ago, find themselves powerless to act.”

After more than four years of fighting and bombardment, rebel Aleppo was on the verge of falling to Syrian regime forces on the night of 6th of December 2016 after they took the last opposition-held parts of the old city. Richard Spencer reported in The Guardian: “Government forces took the last neighbourhoods of the old city overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The British-based monitoring group said rebels had withdrawn after regime advances during the night. "Rebels were forced to withdraw from the old city neighbourhoods of Aleppo for fear of being besieged," the observatory said.”

Aleppo becomes ‘one giant graveyard’ – UN
The sudden advance by government forces and their allies has cut rebel-held territory by a third in a few days.  Rebels now risk a catastrophic defeat in Syria’s second city. There was an Emergency meeting called by the delegations of France and the United Kingdom, United Nations Security Council met on 30 November 2016 to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The UN Security Council sat as what is left of the rebel enclave came under another day of intense bombing. The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said nearly 40% of the opposition area had been captured by government forces, cutting the enclave in two, reported by Julian Borger in The Times on 1 December 2016:

Addressing the UN Security Council, Stephen O'Brien, the UN Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said that the rules of war had been systematically disregarded in Syria. Nowhere had the cruelty been more grimly witnessed than in Aleppo, which had become the apex of a catalogue of horrors in that country.

Julian Borger reported in The Times, "The UN's humanitarian chief has warned that eastern Aleppo was being turned into "one giant graveyard" as the rebel-held area was being overrun by Syrian regime and Russian forces. Stephen O'Brien told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that since Saturday 25,000 people had been forced from their homes in eastern Aleppo, more than half of them children, as the government offensive stormed into opposition districts.

"For the sake of humanity, we call on, we plead, with the parties, and those with influence, to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard," said Stephen O'Brien, ahead of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. "There are no limits or red lines left to cross. The rules of war -sacrosanct notions borne out of generations of costly and painful lessons and set more than 150 year ago in the First Geneva Convention - have been systematically disregarded in Syria."

The United Nations humanitarian chief has warned as Syrian government troops continue a bloody advance backed by Russian air strikes. Representatives of Bashar al-Assad's regime and Russia clashed with British and American delegates at a heated emergency Security Council meeting as battles continued in the city on Wednesday, 30 November, 2016. Sara Elizabeth Williams reported in The Daily Telegraph on 2 December 2016: “Syria and Russia on Thursday declined a United Nations request for a pause in the fighting to evacuate 400 sick and wounded as it emerged that a beloved social worker, who dressed as a clown to cheer up Aleppo's traumatized children, had been killed in an air strike.” After a week of steady regime advances, east Aleppo is close to becoming what UN officials term "one giant graveyard" and rebels are on the verge of a strategic defeat.

Humanitarian disaster:
Western leaders
British Prime Minister Theresa May has joined with other Western leaders to condemn Russia’s role in the “humanitarian disaster” in Aleppo. The Prime Minister along with President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Canada said Vladimir Putin was blocking efforts to get humanitarian aid to the 200,000 civilians still inside rebel-held east Aleppo, reported by Raf Sanchez in the Daily Telegraph on 8 December 2016. It also reported, “We condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and its foreign backers, especially Russia, for their obstruction of humanitarian aid, and strongly condemn the Syrian regime's attacks that have devastated civilians and medical facilities and use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons," the leaders said.

The six leaders of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada released a statement condemning both Russia and Syria for the "humanitarian disaster taking place before our very eyes" in Aleppo.

"A humanitarian disaster is taking place before our very eyes. Some 200,000 civilians, including many children, in eastern Aleppo are cut off from food and medicine supplies.” The six leaders said the "urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire" to allow the UN to deliver aid to the civilian population, which has been cut off and under siege since July.

It seems that the Syrian forces were within sight of a crucial victory in a war that had cost tens of thousands of lives over four and a half years.

Aleppo is now synonym for
hell - Ban Ki-moon
Describing the war-ravaged Syrian town of Aleppo as a “synonym for hell”, the outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the international community has collectively failed the people of Syria and the carnage there remains a "gaping hole" in the global conscience.

"Aleppo is now a synonym for hell," Ban Ki-moon said at the United Nations on 17 December, 2016, bidding farewell to the UN press corps.

“We have collectively failed the people of Syria. Peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen," Ban Ki-moon said.

It is also reported by Economic Times: As the Syria crisis enters its sixth year, civilians continue to bear the brunt of a conflict marked by unparalleled suffering, destruction and disregard for human life. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 4.9 million people in need trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where they are exposed to grave protection threats.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed grave concern over the reports of atrocities against large number of civilians, including women and children. In a statement, Ban stressed the obligation of all parties “to protect civilians and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law. This is particularly the responsibility of the Syrian, government and its allies”

Complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo
More than 11 million Syrians — around half of the population — have been displaced by the fighting, which began in 2011 and has killed more than 300,000 people.

The United Nations said there are reports forces allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been killing civilians “on the spot” in a “complete meltdown of humanity” in Aleppo. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the "deeply disturbing" unverified reports indicate 82 civilians have been killed in their homes in four different Aleppo neighbourhoods. Pro-Assad forces have also carried out mass detentions and arrests, Colville said. Colville said bodies lie in the city streets amid intense bombing. He said 11 women and 13 children were among those killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens have died as regime forces attempt to take full control of eastern Aleppo. At least 1,134 people have been killed, mostly civilians including children, since Assad's regime intensified efforts to capture east Aleppo on 15 November, the monitoring group said.

Repeat of Srebrenica-like genocide
Conservative MP Mr. Andrew Mitchell said at UK Parliament on 13 December, 2016: “Ten years ago, this country, along with the entire international community, embraced the responsibility to protect, a doctrine that said that nation states great and small would not allow Srebrenicas, Rwandas and other appalling events such as those in Darfur to take place again. That responsibility was signed up to with great fanfare and embraced by all the international community, great and small. Yet here we are today witnessing—complicit in—what is happening to tens of thousands of Syrians in Aleppo.”

In 2013, 2 million women and children were in camps, 5 million Syrians were displaced within Syria and Assad had slaughtered 150,000 of his own people, mentioned by Conservative Member for Calder Valley.

Comparing with the carnage and genocide took place in other parts of the world, Liberal Democrat Member for Carshalton and Wallington, Tom Brake, said, “The war in Syria and the slaughter of more than 450,000 innocent civilians, overwhelmingly by Assad’s barrel bombs, is without a doubt the 21st century’s most shocking and deplorable bloodletting. The carnage has been unparalleled since Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The international community’s response has been lamentable. Parliament’s reaction to events, which started in 2013, has been feeble. Assad, Russia and Iran’s response has been criminal and the repercussions and shock waves will be felt for decades.”
“This has been a global collective failure every bit as great as Srebrenica. On that point, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), said Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury.

UN Humanitarian Chief
In a blistering indictment, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called the failure of the UN Security Council, and Russia in particular, to stop the bombing of eastern Aleppo as “our generation’s shame”.

O’Brien said, describing himself as “incandescent with rage” over the Security Council’s passivity, said. “Peoples’ lives [have been] destroyed and Syria itself destroyed. And it is under our collective watch. And it need not be like this – this is not inevitable; it is not an accident … Never has the phrase by poet Robert Burns, of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ been as apt. It can be stopped but you the Security Council have to choose to make it stop.”

O’Brien added: “This Council has been charged with the responsibility for ending this horror. The buck stops with you.” “There is no question today about whether you, members of this Council, know what is going on – you clearly and tragically do. The question today is what you will do?”

O’Brien asked. “If you don’t take action, there will be no Syrian peoples or Syria to save – that will be this council’s legacy, our generation’s shame.”

Shame on Us – Stephen O’Brian
What has happened with the Syrian people, particularly the people of Aleppo in recent history shames us all, people of the world, both east and the west, both leaders and the countries, great or small. It repeated the carnage and genocide committed in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Congo. ‘Shame on us for not stopping Aleppo siege’ said UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brian.

UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brian, said the level of depravity with which Syrian people were being treated, was a shame. “Shame on us all for not acting to stop the annihilation of eastern Aleppo and its people and much of the rest of Syria too,” O’Brian said while delivering his monthly briefing to the Security Council.

“Attacks on civilian infrastructure, most notably hospitals and schools had become commonplace. “Such attacks were violations of international humanitarian law and some had been called out as war crimes by the Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Millions of children had had their childhoods ripped away by calculated and reckless attacks on schools, with 30 children dead over the last two weeks of October.”

Not only the United Nations but at the special debate on Aleppo in the UK Parliament, many parliamentarians expressed their concern and shame over what had happened in Aleppo. Labour MP for Exeter, Mr. Ben Bradshaw said: “The shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), said that what is happening in Syria shames the Assad regime, Iran and Russia; it shames all of us in this House and every political party in this country. It shames the democratic world, the United States, and the United Nations, and if we do not do anything about it—let us not kid ourselves that Assad will stop here; Idlib will be next—that will be the end of the rules-based global order we thought we had achieved after the horrors of Srebrenica, with all the grave consequences that will entail for our future peace and security.”

Parliamentarian John Woodcock said: “Look what is happening today and what has happened over the past three years—the slaughter shames us all, no matter on what side we sit and no matter what our actions were at the time. We are shamed as a nation by this.”

Worldwide Protests and Demonstrations
There were worldwide protests and demonstrations on December 13, 14 and 15, 2016 in various parts of the world, such as the United States of America, Europe, Turkey and Gulf countries in solidarity with the people of Syria, particularly with the people of Aleppo.

New York City: Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) on 15 December, 2016 called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt “reported massacres” in the Syrian city of Aleppo. ICNA called on the US State Department to use all its resources to halt human rights violations in the city, ensure safe civilian evacuation, protect residents and allow relief aid in the violence-torn Syrian city.

ICNA urges Friday to be made a day for prayer for the residents of Aleppo and urges all Friday Sermons to be dedicated to bring about awareness of the situation in Aleppo. The besieged Syrian city of Aleppo has been under stiff attacks by Syrian government forces and their allied militias, sparking wide-scale Arab and international outrage.

“Friends and family inside Aleppo asked that we stand on their behalf outside of Russian embassies,” Mohamed Khairullah, mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, told The Huffington Post at a rally in New York City on Tuesday. “Russia is basically utilizing a scorched-earth campaign in Syria to drive the civilians out of Aleppo in support of Assad.”

Paris: A man holds a sign saying “I am Aleppo” during a protest outside of the Russian Embassy in Paris on 13 December, 2016. “Aleppo is burning,” another man’s sign read at the Paris protest.

London: Thousands of protesters gathered outside the entrance to 10 Downing Street in London on 13 December, 2016. A “Save Aleppo” sign at the protest in London.

Thousands of people joined in the demonstration called by Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) on 17 December, 2016 at Marble Arch, Hyde Park, London in the MARCH FOR ALEPPO – STOP ANOTHER SREBRENICA to protest against the large-scale bombardments and targeting of civilians in Aleppo. The press release also urged to show solidarity with the brave Syrians who remain steadfast in the face of a brutal and prolonged persecution. Thousands of people shouting together “Free Free Syria, down down Asad”.

Sarajevo: Students hold bundles representing dead babies during a protest in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to show solidarity with the trapped citizens of Aleppo on 14 December, 2016.  A man holds a placard with caricatures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad and U.S. President Barack Obama in Sarajevo on 14 December, 2016.

Istanbul: Thousands in Istanbul marched toward the Russian Consulate on 13 December, 2016.

Amman: There was a protest outside of the Russian Embassy in Amman, capital of Jordan on 13 December, 2016. Protesters in front of the Russian Embassy in Amman, Jordan, burn a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a sit-in in solidarity with the people of Aleppo and against Russia’s support of the Syrian regime on 13 December, 2016.

Kuwait: There was a demonstration outside of the Russian Embassy compound in Shaab, Kuwait on December 14, 2016 protesting against carnage in Aleppo.

Saudi King Relief Campaign
It is reported by Saudi Press Agency (SPA) and Reuters that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman ordered a relief campaign to be started and had allocated 100 million riyals ($27 million) to the drive. “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, has ordered a popular campaign to be launched ... to provide relief for the brotherly Syrian people,” SPA said.

The King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works (KSRelief) will coordinate with pertinent authorities the provision of aid items, such as foodstuff, drugs and shelters and will receive the injured for treatment, furnish camps and help delivery of complete wintertime aid packages, SPA said.

King Salman donated SR20 million for the campaign, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif donated SR10 million, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman donated SR8 million.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest donors to United Nations relief campaigns for Syria, including at fundraising meetings in Kuwait and elsewhere. The Kingdom has also a continuing relief aid program for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even inside Syria, reported by Reuters.