My latest column for the Middle East Monitor
30 November 2015
The issue of whether Britain should join the multitude of nations already bombing Syria is one of the most important questions facing parliament for some time. Prime Minister David Cameron made the case for bombing last week and hopes to have convinced MPs of all parties to back him.
The argument is that Daesh is a major security threat to Britain and if proof is needed then the recent Paris atrocities should provide it. Cameron insisted that there is almost an obligation on Britain to support allies already bombing the group in Syria, including France.
The Royal Air Force is already bombing Daesh in Iraq, of course, and the territory under its control includes swathes of both Iraq and Syria; the group does not recognise the international border between the two UN member states.
Britain wants President Bashar Al-Assad to step down and believes that the Syrian army is responsible for over 200,000 deaths since the uprising — now a civil war with international involvement — started in 2011. However, Cameron is clear that the air strikes he proposes would only target Daesh and not the Assad regime. He is also adamant that he will not put British Army boots on the ground.
The issue is in danger of splitting the already troubled Labour Party. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has a long-standing history of opposing war. The record shows that he was right to oppose the Iraq invasion and war which brought devastation to the country and a rise in terrorism, with groups like Al-Qaeda flourishing.
Now we have a plethora of armed groups, a “Free Syrian Army” and many states bombing Daesh in Iraq or Syria, or both. And then there is Russia, a recent entry onto the scene under the pretence of attacking Daesh but, according to other states involved in Syria, actually attacking anti-Assad groups.
The world faces a hugely complicated situation requiring both a diplomatic and military plan. In addition, if we have learnt anything at all from the disaster in Iraq, then a post-war plan is a must if the same mistakes are not to be repeated.
Will RAF air strikes make us safer in Britain?
I think not, and it is illogical that the government’s answer to this question is “Yes”, not least because it is now very apparent that the Paris atrocities were planned in Europe and not in Syria or Iraq. The answer for me lies in better intelligence gathering. There is a need for greater emphasis on national intelligence gathering and stronger transnational coordination, particularly in Europe.
Britain enjoys far stricter border controls which the Schengen Area countries lack. As such, the chances of terrorist cells entering the UK from Europe are more unlikely. It is also much more difficult — as far as I am aware — for anyone to purchase clandestine weapons in Britain than it is in the rest of the EU.
We are told that the British security services have successfully foiled a number of terrorist attacks this year. My conclusion, therefore, is that air strikes on their own are futile in reducing the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain, but greater and coordinated intelligence can be much more effective.
Should Britain do nothing in Syria?
I believe that Britain and all the other states involved in Syria need a plan and suggest that it needs to have the following elements:
- Establish no fly zones and safe havens inside Syria to stem the tide of refugees leaving the country.
- Curb sources of funding and arms for Daesh and continue to degrade its ability to sell oil.
- Work with Turkey to stem the tide of fighters wanting to join the group from outside Syria.
- Accept that the Syrian regime is there to stay and engage with it, bringing it back into the fold of the international community (see below).
- Broker a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the opposition groups as it requires the focus of both to defeat Daesh.
- Support the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces.
- Build a coalition against Daesh to include all of the states currently engaged in Syria, but with the Syrian army and opposition groups playing a central role.
- Use this improved situation to develop a long-term political solution for Syria. This will include a reconciliation process.
- Begin the process of an accelerated reconstruction of Syria working with the Syrian government.
I accept that, for many, bringing the Syrian regime back into the fold is a step too far, especially with regards to Bashar Al-Assad, but it is in my view the only entity that could eradicate Daesh on the ground. It does, however, need to shift the focus of its army to fighting the group after having established a ceasefire with the opposition.
The time for war crimes trials can come once Syria and Iraq are stabilised. Until then, the destruction of Daesh as an entity on the ground and as an ideology is of paramount importance.
I joined a discussion (in Arabic) about the BDS movement which covered France, the UK and Morocco. Link here
Thu Nov 26, 2015
I was interviewed by Press TV after Israel demolished a Bedouin village in the Negev again.
Link to the interview here
I was interviewed by Press TV on 22/11/2015
Link can be found here.
Middle East Monitor published the article below on 16 November 2015
Image from Middle East Monitor
Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly after capturing it from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967. For decades it has claimed that East and West Jerusalem are part of one entity. It has also claimed Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, but no foreign state recognises it as such and all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv, although a few countries have a consular presence in East Jerusalem, including the US and Britain. The consulates tend to deal with Palestinian issues.
The de facto Palestinian administrative capital is Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and the location of the embassies of countries that recognise Palestine as a state, even though occupied East Jerusalem is claimed by Palestinians to be the capital of a future independent Palestinian entity. The international community observes UN Security Council resolutions which designate East Jerusalem as illegally occupied territory.
Following the Oslo Accords, negotiations on the status of Jerusalem were postponed and included in what were termed “final status issues” along with borders and refugees. Recent Israeli governments have refused to discuss Jerusalem’s status as part of peace talks because of their claim that it is the united, eternal capital of Israel. In other words, there is nothing to negotiate.
However, there is much to negotiate on Jerusalem and other issues if there is ever to be peace in historic Palestine. Indeed, nobody but the most ardent of Zionists believes that Jerusalem is a united city.
Before the creation of Israel in 1948 Palestinians lived in all parts of Jerusalem, including what is now called West Jerusalem. Those who lived there were evicted forcibly from their homes and replaced by newly-arrived Jews who had no qualms about taking the properties of those made refugees. To this day one hears stories of Palestinians evicted in 1948 who have gone back to see the homes from which they were expelled as children and shedding a tear as they see ripe fruit on trees they remember sneaking out from their homes to pick. One of those recounting such a trip recently was British Palestinian academic and author Dr Ghada Karmi.
East Jerusalem was almost wholly home to Palestinians during the British mandate and even after the establishment of Israel in 1948, as was the Old City. Ever since its occupation in 1967, though, Israel has deliberately planted Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and Israelis have sought aggressively to take properties in the Old City either through claims that they belonged to Jews in the past, the Absentee Law or deception via rogue estate agents who have claimed publicly that houses were being sold to Palestinians, when in fact they would end up in Jewish hands.
In addition to illegal settlements within the Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, Israel has encircled the city with huge illegal settlement blocs in order to cut it off from its West Bank hinterland, thus making it impossible for it to become a future capital of Palestine.
Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
Israeli governments have also worked to control and reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem. The municipality regularly rejects planning requests for new buildings or extensions of existing homes to accommodate natural population growth. Other measures include the construction of the Apartheid Wall and the revocation of Jerusalem identity (or residence) cards of those Palestinians who were in East Jerusalem when it was occupied in 1967. It has placed neighbourhoods like Abu Dis, Alaizariya, Al-Ram and Qalandia on the West Bank side of the wall, despite the fact that the Palestinian inhabitants of these areas hold Jerusalem ID cards.
The cards give holders the chance to vote in the Jerusalem municipality elections but not in elections for the Knesset. Most Palestinians refuse to take part in these as they do not recognise Israel’s sovereignty there.
Israel’s contention that Jerusalem is a united city was challenged heavily on the ground in the recent unrest which followed its determined attempt to extend its control over Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians feared that Israel was on the way to dividing it between Muslims and Jews as it did in Hebron following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians performing morning prayers inside the mosque by Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein.
Israel effectively sealed off Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem from the rest of the city. This included Al-Tur, Jabal Al-Mukabber, Al-Essawia, where they used concrete blocks and earth mounds leaving one exit for each neighbourhood through a military checkpoint.
A decision to install a “temporary wall” between the Jewish settlement of Armon Hanatziv and Palestinian homes in Jabal Al-Mukabber caused heated discussions amongst the political elite about the symbolism this conveyed. It was a clear sign that the city is not united but is, quite literally, divided. The Zionist Union Party claimed that, “Netanyahu officially divided Jerusalem today.” The wall was removed but the Israeli authorities claimed that they were only responding to human rights organisation protests.
As another attempt to revive the peace process will surely come about, Israel must accept the reality that one of the core issues – Jerusalem – presents it with a dilemma. If it continues to claim that Jerusalem is united and off the table for discussions, there is little chance of securing peace. Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority has said that there will be no peace if it is based on a two-state solution without East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Note that he does not accept a capital in East Jerusalem, which Israel would interpret as an outlying neighbourhood like Bet Hanina.
In fact, Abbas does not want to divide the city but for it to be a shared capital. This is a far more reasonable position than that of Netanyahu, who is considering revoking over 100,000 Jerusalem ID cards from those whom Israeli governments have placed on the “wrong” side of the wall.
Jerusalem is an important city to so many millions of people, particularly the followers of the three monotheistic religions; would anyone really want to see it divided?
For the sake of peace, Israelis need get over their dilemma and accept that an agreement for an honestly shared capital of two states, coupled with an agreement to end the occupation to a set timeline, could be the catalyst for a renewed peace process which could lead to a final agreement. If the future of Jerusalem was agreed first, it would make the other final status issues much easier to solve.