“A Brighter Palestinian Future”

The new unity government accepts the demands, waters down the wording and expands on the stipulation.

By Liam Bailey

The new Palestinian Authority (PA) unity government is being hailed as a great thing for Palestinians. I don’t deny it is a step in the right direction but tough decisions, and hopefully negotiations lie ahead. If the right decisions aren’t made by all parties involved it will not improve one thing in the occupied territories. Speaking to Israel’s Haaretz daily, on condition of anonymity one Israeli official said: “The conditions have not been met. This is not something we can live with.” The U.S. State Department reiterated its call that the new government must meet international demands. It is clear from recent U.S. and Israel policies and their reactions to the new accord, that a serious change in Hamas’ overtures will be needed if the unity government is to be treated differently than its predecessor.

The reason for hostility towards Hamas is because their charter calls for the destruction of Israel and despite the international siege since early last year they have continually refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and adhere to previous agreements made between the palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. The unity accord makes no mention of recognizing Israel or the other demand to renounce violence, only stipulating that Hamas will “respect” previous agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Abbas had held out for a commitment to adhere to previous agreements, but Hamas held firm and the wording was watered down.The watered down wording gave weight to the reactions from the U.S and Israel, and the European Union said it would study the new administration “in a positive but cautious manner.” The Quartet, (the EU, Russia and the UN) has been pressuring the U.S for an end to the PA blockade for months. The U.S and Israel have been as stubborn as Hamas.A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Feb. 9 welcomed the new deal between rival Palestinian factions and made a fresh appeal for the lifting of a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian government. It remains to be seen whether the slight concession from Hamas, the first from them since they took power will allow the other Quartet members to sufficiently tighten the thumbscrews on the U.S. to end the blockade.

It is almost certain the Arab states friendly to the Palestinians will make the most of a momentous achievement by the PA and use their leverage as a much needed Middle East ally for the U.S in stabilizing Iraq and ratcheting up the pressure on Iran’s nuclear regime, to secure they can get some badly needed aid back into to PA. However, while an injection of aid from friendly Arab states will alleviate the Palestinian’s plight, not least in allowing them to pay their employees a full salary for the first time since Hamas were elected. This will make things exponentially better for the workforce and the third of Palestinian families they take home the bacon to.

The normalization of relations with Israel and the U.S. is what’s really needed to bring PA life back to the Palestinian reality before Hamas were elected, which still isn’t western life but it is a good jumping off point for a new push for peace from both sides. This would include unfreezing bank’s and accounts and releasing the $800 million dollars of withheld Palestinian tax revenues and an end to the measure. The new unity in the PA gives its parties the chance to attempt normalizing their relationships with each other and the international community. They badly need the international community on their side, or at least not against them if they expect Israel to come to the table with a serious offer for peace.

What is also needed is the serious change in Hamas rhetoric towards Israel I mentioned, preferably in them accepting the three demands of the quartet. I suspect that their “respecting” past agreements will be enough to satisfy the Quartet on that demand, at least until the negotiation stage. The other demands are the hardest for Hamas to accept, and in fact, what the U.S. fails to realize, or, like Israel, doesn’t care about is that Hamas accepting the most crucial demand –Israel’s right to exist– will take away the unity governments credibility in the eyes of its members, and the population at large. Such an acceptance, to Palestinians would mean accepting that Israel had the right to expel Arabs in the 1948 war. Any negotiations would then risk being interrupted or at worst derailed by gunmen and/or armed wing members attacking each other or Israel.

I have a solution. The new unity government accepts the demands and maintains credibility by watering down the wording and expanding on the stipulation. For instance:

We, the PA unity government unconditionally recognize Israel’s existence within the 67 borders, as stipulated by UN Security Council Resolution 242.

The same can be done with the renounce violence demand:

We the PA unity government make a declaration to completely renounce all forms of violence for a period of 6 months to allow preparations to be made for the full reinstatement of aid, unfreezing of accounts and return of withheld revenues in Israel and elsewhere it applies, and fresh negotiations with the starting point that adherence to Security Council Resolution 242 and the formation of a completely independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem according to the borders before the 1967 war, are a guarantee, regardless of the talks outcome.

The ball is then well and truly shifted into Israel and the U.S’ courts. UNSC Resolution 242 calls for the return of the above stated land, which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. There are arguments that Resolution 242 could be backed up with force as it is legally binding under article 25 of the UN charter on the grounds of its incorporation in UN Resolution 338, presented to the UNSC by the U.S and Russia to end the Yom Kippur war. Resolution 338 may well have been backed up with force. The PA government could approach the UN about a reaffirmation of the resolutions demands for the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

There has never been a better time for Palestinians to maintain a peace, because the U.S needs friends like it never did before. The friendly Arab states, the EU, Russia, and the UN Security Council are all necessary allies for cranking up diplomatic pressure on Iran, The U.S also needs its Arab allies in stabilizing Iraq and possibly for airspace and bases in the event of war with Iran. Israel has always said that its main objective is peace and it is willing to give land to achieve it, whereas the Arabs objective is land, Israel expects them to give peace to achieve it. With the Palestinians doing everything that was expected of them, the U.S and Israel’s rhetoric and incessant peace overtures would back-fire on them. There would be no excuses left.

The Palestinians would need to ensure that they resist the Israeli tactics that would undoubtedly ensue, like the West Bank arrest Raids and new settlement in the recent ceasefire. And the most recent “renovations” at Al Aqsa mosque, which led to violence after the unity government deal was reached. The clashes add further difficulty for a new government that will undoubtedly struggle to regain control after the fierce factional fighting of the last few months. These tactics are aimed at drawing the Palestinians into actions that would end Israel’s uncomfortable predicament.

If the PA could keep to its side of the bargain any reluctance by Israel, which there would undoubtedly be, would be overruled by Iran’s nuclear program being firmly number one on the U.S’ agenda. Iran being such a U.S. priority is almost as much Israel’s fault as anyone else’s, vis-a-vis the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s influence in the current U.S administration. This would make it a double backfire when the U.S. applied pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians the talks they and the world community –badly needed allies– would be shouting for.

When talks commence the ball comes back into the Palestinians court on the basis of needing to compromise on other final status issues, such as the right of return. The Palestinians want refugees to return to the very land they were expelled from, after nearly 60 years this is impractical if not impossible for Israel to grant. I read about one Palestinian refugee who, if granted the right of return, would be building his house in the grounds of Jerusalem airport. Not to mention it would risk Israel becoming predominantly Arab, which would in turn further reduce the number of Jews immigrating to Israel under their Law of Return. Two things Israel will never risk.

A suitable compromise may be accepting a limited right of return, whereby refugees could only return on the grounds that they take up land in the now formally and completely independent Palestinian state. Three generations after the Naqba many of the people expelled in the 1948 war of [Israeli] independence are no longer refugees. They or their descendants have made lives for themselves and their families elsewhere in the world and wouldn’t want to return. The Palestinians clinging uncompromisingly to achieving this right in full is an unnecessary obstacle to peace.

The other thing that would undoubtedly be a new sticking point in any such negotiations would be the separation wall Israel has almost completed. When complete it originally would have enclosed the West Bank, Palestinians complained because it is built inside the land that should become the independent Palestinian state. Since it started there have been extensions to the planned route taking even more land the Palestinians feel is rightly theirs. The wall has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. The new pressure on Israel should also be taken advantage of by the Palestinians to achieve the tearing down of the wall, again, simply by maintaining the peace from their side. If they did this, despite Israel’s delaying and provocative tactics, Israel would eventually have to face the inevitable:

No security wall is needed with the PA adhering to its commitments and peacefully waiting for Israel to meet theirs. However reluctantly the U.S supported the PA, with theirs and the rest of the international community’s support for the new, moderate and peaceful unity government, Israel would be left with nowhere to go.

This might prove difficult, the longer Israel delayed meeting its commitments, and, based on previous initiatives that could be years of provocative actions, the more time the Palestinians would have, for one person or small group to revert to the habits of a lifetime. I’d like to hope the Palestinians would give the new unity government the respect they expect from the international community and that it would well and truly deserve for having the courage to compromise for a brighter Palestinian future.

This article has also been published on War Pages on Blogspot


Excluding Hamas Won’t Bring Peace!

Recent policies to bring Middle East peace, were pushing Palestinians apart and peace further away.

By Liam Bailey

The latest push for Middle East peace focused on strengthening moderates against “the extremists”. Fatah’s Abbas was the policy’s patron saint, well, a patron anyway. The policy exacerbated a rift that worsened when talks collapsed to create a unity Palestinian Authority government. A rift that quickly escalated in an environment under the pressure of extreme poverty caused by the western government boycott of the January elected Hamas government.

It was an unworkable policy, to the Palestinian people Fatah has sold itself time and time again, first and foremost by accepting Israel’s right to exist. To Palestinians this means accepting that Israel had the right to expel their Arab brethren in 1948. Something they will never do. Hamas in government gave the PA a shred of credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Now Fatah have united under this credibility I hope they can use their moderate status to push for Palestinian rights peacefully. If not any deals made and agreements reached will not bring peace. What’s more Israel and the west know this; one reason for the Hamas boycott was their refusal to renounce violence.

I believe that Hamas joining democratic proceedings and adhering to two ceasefires, one for almost a year, proves they are willing to renounce violence if it is reciprocated and leading to an independent Palestinian state within the 67 borders. The right of return and other final status issues could be settled in further negotiations in –a new concept for both states–, peacetime. Hamas certainly won’t renounce violence to adhere to an agreement reached on the basis of –Fatah–succumbing to Israeli demands and putting self-importance and greed before Palestinian rights. Hamas remaining outside the process that led to the Oslo accord and attempting to sabotage the process through terrorism showed this. However neither Israel nor the PLO adhered to their commitments under the accord anyway.The Palestinian people showed their displeasure for Fatah by electing Hamas. Therefore an agreement between Israel and Fatah would not have been appreciated or adhered to by the Palestinian population at large either, including Islamic Jihad. Palestinians will not support any peace that will not change their lives for the better. In the conditions they live a fair and just deal would be a complete turnaround in their lives. Only Hamas looked capable of sustaining its commitment to Palestinian rights and achieving such a deal. Israel may deal with Hamas now they have formed a coalition with the –supposedly– more moderate Fatah. So, the big push for peace, by worsening PA division to crisis point, and beyond, was actually pushing us away from peace.

The policy started late Dec. 2006, with Abbas meeting Olmert, who promised to free $100 million of withheld Palestinian tax revenues. He made good on his promise a few days later. His other concessions however agreeing to take away some West Bank checkpoints and ease the strangulation of there and Gaza, followed the history of such concessions in being much easier said than done. As Israeli analyst Gershon Bashkin put it in the Jerusalem Post Feb. 5: “the proof is in the pudding, and so far the pudding is rotten.” The meeting was followed by a massive arms transfer from Egypt, allowed to reach Fatah security forces by Israel. The U.S recently pledged $84 billion to Abbas as part of the large and multilateral campaign to arm and fund Fatah against a militarily stronger, –certainly in Gaza– Hamas.

The other arm of the policy was a new peace process involving the Quartet, but completely excluding Hamas. If Hamas were to be ignored politically, all they had left was violence. This and the program of funding and arming Fatah militias was always going to make Hamas feel threatened and angry, which of course was going to escalate the fighting.

The rift between the Palestinian factions started just weeks before the Abbas/Olmert meeting, shortly after unity government talks collapsed three sons of a Fatah allied security guard were gunned down. Hamas were blamed but denied the attack. A Hamas judge was killed in a reprisal attack, for which Fatah denied responsibility. Things escalated again when the Hamas leader and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, returning because of the fighting, was held at the Gaza border by Israel. Hamas militants went to the border, which was being patrolled by Fatah security forces at the time. Fierce fighting broke out between the two factions. After a few hours Haniyeh was allowed to pass and in the chaos, bullets entered the car. Crossfire or not it was taken as an attempt on the Prime Ministers life. Haniyeh’s bodyguard was killed in the attack and his son wounded. Again Fatah were blamed but denied the attack.

Both Abbas and Haniyeh agreed many truces to end the infighting and called for all gunmen to leave the streets. Unfortunately the Hamas military wing is controlled from Syria by Kaleed Meshal. The push for peace presented the appearance that they [the U.S. and Israel] intended to arm and fund Fatah until Hamas was defeated or forced into submission and accepted the –unacceptable– demands laid on them by the west. With Hamas under such a threat and felt to be militarily stronger, Khaled Meshaal sought to ensure Hamas’ survival by defeating Fatah once and for all. At the same time ensuring Hamas’ survival in the political arena and therefore ensuring the Palestinian people will not be willingly led into an agreement of subdifuge.

Hamas and Fatah reached agreement for a power sharing government Feb. 8. Israel officials are casting doubt on whether the planned peace summit Feb. 19 with Abbas, U.S secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will go ahead with an Abbas now sharing power with Hamas. They are also talking about a reduced likelihood of Olmert making any concessions to Abbas if the meeting does go ahead. Whether it goes ahead or not will likely depend on the rhetoric from the new government towards Israel, and whether the U.S. pressures for it to go ahead under the facade that they are committed to a peace deal. If their commitment to peace was a strong as their commitment to Israel peace wouldn’t look such a far off prospect.

The unity agreement makes no mention of recognizing Israel or the other demand to renounce violence, only stipulating that Hamas will “respect” previous agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Abbas had held out for a commitment to adhere to previous agreements, but Hamas held firm and the wording was watered down.

Both Meshal and Abbas have stated their commitment to the deal and their desire for no further internal fighting in the PA, and that they hope the international siege of the PA will be lifted because of the new government. While U.S allies in the region, and the other three members of the quartet (Russia, the E.U. and the U.N.), who have been pressuring the U.S. to end the siege may reinstate diplomatic relations with the PA as a first step to making pledges of aid, the U.S. state department has already reiterated that the new government is required to meet international demands.

Just days after the latest push was started by the Abbas/Olmert meeting, the Israeli government approved a new settlement in the West Bank, one which was nearly completed before government approval. The settlement has now been “frozen” because of U.S pressure. The settlements approval, has recently been followed by another Jerusalem home demolition as part of the campaign to keep Jerusalem’s Arab population low and an extension to the planned route of the separation wall. The new route annexes even more land from the final Palestinian state.

This all happened while Palestinian infighting was diverting attention, as well as freeing Israeli security forces to carry out the operations. All are operations that help toward the Zionist dream of a pure, or at least remaining predominantly Jewish, Israel.

Therefore, even people adverse to conspiracies can see that Israel was the main beneficiary of the Palestinian infighting. Their policies after it began proved, at the very least, that they weighed capitalizing on it above creating a suitable environment for a lasting peace.

Meanwhile the U.S is still treating Israel as an ally in the war on terror and Hamas as an enemy in it. This conflict was going on before Osama Bin Laden could trouble anyone, Hamas were attacking Israel before Al Qaeda were attacking the West, Hamas could have jumped on the Al Qaeda band wagon but, despite Zawahiri’s best attempts, they haven’t.

If the solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict was strengthening moderates against extremists, it would have been over years ago. The only push that will bring peace is all parties pushing the desire for peace to number 1 on the agenda. After nearly a century of conflict isn’t it about time they did?

 <i>I wrote this article two days before the PA unity deal was signed.  An example of how fast things can change in this conflict.</i>

This article has also been published, along with my new articles on War Pages on Blogspot

Stop the Israeli Oppression!

Publicising a peaceful way to bring Israel into line.

By Liam Bailey

Many people compare the Palestinian’s plight to that of South Africans living under apartheid; two peoples living in one country in completely separate circumstances, one being oppressed and treated inhumanely at the rule of the other. Israel’s separation wall that is being erected, at its current course annexing yet more Arab land reinforces the Israeli apartheid view.

Palestinians –like South Africans under apartheid– are suffering a great deal, especially in Gaza where they have been forced by an EU, U.S boycott to live in poverty as bad as anywhere else in the world. Unlike South Africans there is no significant campaign to stop the oppression. The British anti-apartheid movement became extremely popular across the western world, attracting the support of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. Its campaign of boycotting the South African regime, with such popular support, made a big difference in ending the apartheid, according to the people who lived under the regime.

Last year, in a cry for similar support, authoritative members of Palestinian civil society called for an academic, consumer, and cultural boycott of Israel as well as divestment from churches, universities, states, cities, unions, banks and anyone else who wants to take part. The text of the call was:

We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

The call was endorsed by 171 Palestinian organizations, campaigns, unions and refugee rights associations, as the original call said: from “the three integral parts of the people of Palestine: Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel.” The boycott –which could become a major part in the fight to end Israeli oppression– has begun. Several factors are stopping it from having the popular support from mainstream media and western governments enjoyed by the South African anti-apartheid movement:

One: The similarities between Israel treatment of the Palestinians and the South African Apartheid is not commonly connected, especially in the mainstream media, which for whatever reason refuses to make the connection.

Two: We live in a world ruled by the U.S, with Israel by their side, Israel have been extremely keen to have any form of boycott or divestment labelled as anti-Semitic, an almost equal campaign by pro-Israeli media and journalists has begun for people to boycott the boycott.

Three: Fear of terrorism, which gives weight to Islamaphobia and credibility and therefore increasing popularity to far-right wing groups and political parties, happily criticising the entire Muslim community as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. This means that the Palestinians actively fighting the oppressive Israeli occupation with the only means they have, is played out in the media and therefore seen by the world as terrorism.

Four: Al Qaeda continually seeking to affiliate its cause, which is, in short the murder of Americans and their allies anywhere in the world, with the Palestinians cause, seeking to live in an independent and oppression free-state, and be treated as equals by the world. This adds weight to the media stories, and that the Palestinians fighting the occupation are part of the same Islamic Extremist ideology that is a threat to the western world.

All these factors combine to prevent the calls for boycott and divestment of Israel, attempting similar activities as the anti-(South African)-Apartheid movement and with a similar cause, freeing a people from an oppressive and racist regime, from enjoying anywhere near the same level of support. The campaign is young and this is my way of helping.

Israeli academic and author Ilan Pape is a strong supporter of the boycott. In a recent interview given to Christopher Brown, Mr Pape said of the Boycott’s value in achieving a just solution for the Palestinians:

“It will be very hard in this globalized world we live in to bring about economic sanctions, which would have been the most effective in forcing a change in Israeli policy.

The second best, and more feasible, [way] is to send a message to Israel from the societies at large that its policies are unacceptable, that as long as it continues to do what it does it cannot be accepted … It cannot be in the community of civilized nations.

I think there is both a symbolic and a very political significance to a coordinated reaction by societies in the west for a message, a clear message, that is conveyed in the way of a boycott of divestment or any other symbolic act which says that there is a price tag attached to the policies that you pursue and as long as you pursue these policies, you are not welcomed here. Not as individuals — you are not welcomed here if you represent a certain ideology, a certain state, and especially if you appear as an official representative of this state.”

To the Israeli claims that the boycott is anti-semitic Mr Pape said: “the Israelis are over-using the anti-semitic accusation against anyone who criticizes them. Not only [against] those who call for a boycott, even the mildest criticism of Israel is depicted here as an act of anti-semitism. Maybe one or two known anti-semites have joined the wagon, but that doesn’t prove anything. The fact is that Israel wants to be immune from any criticism. And the shield it uses is always anti-semitism.”

Mr Pape’s final word in the interview was:

“Israel needs a wake-up call. Israelis don’t know that this is what the world thinks about them and I think that civil societies around the world can be the alarm clock for them, and they should be the alarm clock.”

The daily violence Palestinians have to endure under Israeli occupation, combined with what can safely be called “measured” “genocide” and intentions to ethnically cleanse the West Bank, should mean Palestinians have the massive support of all campaigners against oppression. They don’t.

The boycott is a way that you and I can support the Palestinians struggle, a way to let Israel know that the developed and civilized world will no longer tolerate their behaviour, even if our government’s will. I will be supporting it, click here to find out how you can too.

Jettison Blair!

Labour needs to push Blair overboard soon to have any chance in the May elections. By Liam Bailey

Prime Minister Tony Blair has stated his intentions to stand down before the next election. It is a near certainty that he will be replaced by the Chancellor Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown has announced his intentions to distance himself from the white house, to “speak his mind” and put Britain’s National interests first.

The Prime Minister has refused to set a date for his departure, but has said the 2006 Trades Union Congress (TUC) would be his last, meaning he will leave sometime before September. Most people believe he will leave in May to have a decade in office but keep his promise to go before the TUC 2007. Others believe he will go sometime before May to give his successor time to assure the maximum Labour vote at the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and local councils.

Pollsters are predicting a heavy defeat for Labour at the May elections. Under Blair they may well be right. I predict arrogant Blair will again put his legacy before the Party and Britain’s national interests by staying in office until at least May, assuring his decade as Prime Minister. Not only that but Labour is currently conducting an extensive policy review, which Blair hopes will secure his legacy by entrenching long-term plans for public service reforms. It is highly unlikely that he will leave before its conclusion.

Many people also believe he will hang on as long as possible in the hope the Northern Ireland’s devolution can be restarted while he is still in office. All these things make it unlikely that he will be stepping down any time soon and unlikely his successor will have anytime to influence the vote in May, if in fact Blair doesn’t stay on for the elections.

The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it best: “We have a constitutional novelty. A prime minister with responsibility and no authority and a chancellor with authority but no responsibility. How can this dysfunctional government conduct the affairs of the country?” The latest Labour party scandal proves he is right.

Former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has caused a massive stir in the UK by taking her Dyslexic son out of state school and into a private school. Ms Kelly said she was doing “the right thing for my child”, in paying 15000 pounds per year fees to move her son from public schooling in Tower Hamlet’s borough to private schooling. A boarding school in Oxfordshire is Ms Kelly’s choice, despite there being 20 schools close to her home, six with either outstanding or excellent Special Education Needs (SEN) services according to a recent Ofsted report. Downing Street almost immediately released a statement supporting MS Kelly and David Cameron, who has a son with cerebal paulsey expressed his sympathy.

I doubt if the thousands of parents across the country, who have children with severe learning difficulties but can’t afford private school will feel the same, in fact it is likely that they will have lost faith in public sector SEN schooling. Either way the former Education Secretary, now Communities Minister Ruth Kelly has shown little faith in her community, little faith in the education system and therefore little faith in herself. Her decision has also caused a massive scandal for Labour, which could really do without it at the moment.

The debate has continued in the papers and Thursday’s British television news, since the Sunday Mirror expose. In 2005 David Blunkett became the ninth minister Blair had forced to resign, and five others have resigned in scandalous circumstances, four over the Iraq war. I have no doubt that Ruth Kelly would have been the tenth forced resignation under normal party conditions. An ITN news reporter echoed Menzies Campbell Wednesday, saying: Blair has the responsibility but no authority and Brown has the authority but no responsibility, so it looks likely she –Ruth Kelly– will stay in her job. So, not only is it yet another high-profile scandal and yet more bad publicity for the Labour Party, but it has yet again drawn attention to the “dysfunctional government” running the UK.

All the above combines to make it very unlikely the pollsters will be proved wrong about the May elections. Labour will indeed be in for a blood-bath.

So, what has never looked likely before begins to look likely now, a Scottish National Party (SNP) win in the Scottish Parliament elections and maybe even Scottish Independence. The Scottish National Party is slightly ahead of Scottish Labour, and miles ahead of all other parties in most opinion polls, you can’t blame them for thinking this could be their year.

The SNP will undoubtedly try to gain Scottish independence, which has a lot of support in Scotland but not from me. I am a proud Scot, but I am also proud to be British and believe we have far more clout in Europe and the world speaking with one unified voice. Devolution has meant Scotland can still act in its own right, with its own separate funding and separate policies, as the smoking ban in Scotland has proven. I am a smoker and to see people on T.V. smoking in English pubs, knowing we can no longer smoke in public places north of the border is one example I could do without.

New supporters are adding to the people who have always supported the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland. They believe Scotland could be better off as an independent state because it would have sole control and reap the profits of Scotland’s oil reserves, which they believe would expand the Scottish economy.

The fact that the opposition party set to gain the most in the Scottish Parliament elections is not the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats but the SNP is evidence of what is making people angry, perhaps more so than any of the above. The Scottish people want to distance themselves from Blair’s foreign policy and they see the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland as the best way to do that.

Therefore, perhaps the biggest disadvantage for having Blair onboard is his unrelenting support for Bush and the U.S. combined with anti-U.S. feeling in the U.K. running at an all time high. This is largely because of Bush’s foreign policy, which Blair has followed blindly. Despite support for the Iraq war and therefore Bush and therefore Blair being at an all time low, Blair refuses, whatever his reasoning to criticise Bush even slightly, no matter how stupid his foreign policies seem.

The latest U.S bombing in Somalia is yet another example, Blair was asked during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s questions if he was concerned by the air strikes from the US air force carried out on Somali targets over the last few days. It was suggested by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn that what was needed was not foreign intervention but a peace process. Blair agreed: “What is in the interests of everyone in Somalia is to have a peace process that works properly”.

Bearing in mind that for the last fifteen years Somalis have endured either all-out war or total violent chaos in the country, Blair should surely have stopped there, or perhaps added something like: and that is what everybody, including the U.S wants to see in the country. Instead he added: the extremists at work in Somalia pose a threat not just to those outside Somalia but those within it as well and that global terrorism around the world had “a clear ideology and strategy” and where lives were being affected by it, it was right that those responsible were targeted. Bush can do no wrong in Blair’s eyes.

People are worried that with Blair in power the government will be pressured by Bush’s troop surge in Iraq and won’t keep its promise of bringing thousands of our troops home this year. Home from what many believe is an un-winnable war.

Blair staying in power but not really in charge puts the Labour party at a definite disadvantage. For one thing it gives opposition MP’s an easy target to aim criticism and ridicule at. Everyday that passes without an announcement of Blair’s departure means less time for the new leader to turn things around, more time for people to get even angrier as the dysfunctional government is exposed time and again and more reason for opposition MP’s to rub their hands together.

There is a program scheduled on British T.V. channel More Four called the Trial of Tony Blair. In the program Blair is convicted and jailed by a war-crimes tribunal at The Hague. This is further evidence of the U.K’s feelings about the Iraq war and Blair’s part in it. The Labour Party needs to cast Blair from around their neck before it is too late.

The End of War as We Know It!

Islamic extremist terrorism is a new threat. It requires a new approach. By Liam Bailey

9/11 was the pinnacle of an emerging ideology that had been festering for many years. Mainly since 1979, successive American Presidents oil bias and selective or intentional ignorance to unintended consequences of foreign policy decisions created a monster. On 9/11 it bit the hand that stopped feeding it when it had served its purpose. In dealing with the monster Bush has invaded two oil-rich Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, carrying on the great tradition of exacerbating the problem.

The history lessons should have already taught anyone considering the invasion of a Muslim country that it may not be such a good idea. The long running conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnya should ring alarm bells. The U.S government’s arrogance of “Anything you can do, we can do it better” and Bush’s refusal to admit their military short-comings in Vietnam prevented any such reluctance to invading Afghanistan.

Bush should really have been well versed in Afghanistan’s history and the perilous future of countries who invade, as many of Bush’s top aides were part of the Reagan cabinet that exacerbated the Soviet’s troubles in Afghanistan. A policy started by Reagan’s predecessor, which drew the Soviet Union into invading. The U.S was so confident that the Afghan Mujahideen would defeat the Soviet Union with their support that they concentrated on dragging it out for as long as possible. The spiralling cost of the invasion was a major factor in the demise of the Soviet Union. The U.S is proud their policy went so well, unfortunately it caused instability in Afghanistan for almost a decade.

Bush clearly wasn’t made aware of the possible quagmire Afghanistan could become, or, from Bush’s rhetoric, he holds his U.S and its military on a pedestal and refused to believe a few “Rag-tag” extremists (stirred up Moslems” as Zbigniew Brzezinski called them) could defeat it. The U.S heavily aided and armed the Northern Alliance, which was ousted by the Taliban and had been trying to regain control ever since. The Alliance was no match for the Taliban with Pakistan’s support. The sudden influx of U.S support redressed the balance and the Northern Alliance drove the Taliban back into their caves on the Afghan/Pakistan border.

In Afghanistan, recruiting was always going to be easy for the Taliban seeking to reform and regroup for the insurgency Mullah Mohammed Omar promised. In the Madrassas on the Afghanistan border and across Pakistan, many of which were built with U.S money during the Soviet invasion, a militant interpretation of Salafist Islam is taught. In these teachings there is no greater honour than to be a fighter in the Mujahideen’s struggle to liberate Islamic land from a godless invader.

Nobody knows whether NATO will prevail in Afghanistan or the radicals and Pakistan made Taliban will. Either way, the minute Bush invaded Afghanistan, not only did he legitimize Osama Bin Laden and other terror network’s Fatwahs [PDF p51] by giving their terrorism a battlefield. He then went ahead to show that Osama Bin Laden’s propaganda was true by failing to show remorse for “collateral damage”, and failing to rebuild Afghanistan, thus displaying the imperialistic traits of a war based on ulterior motives. None of which was concern for the Afghan people living under the cruel Taliban.

All the above amid the media frenzy caused by 9/11 and the new “War on Terror” –war on the world’s newest and biggest fear– meant Osama’s propaganda being proved right was watched by every Muslim fortunate enough to have a computer and/or television. The problem Al Qaeda had with dwindling global membership was solved by 9/11 and the war on terror’s first action. Gauntanamo, the “shock and awe” of the Iraq campaign and resulting “collateral damage” further served Al Qaeda’s Salafism fuelled cause. As did the atrocities committed by U.S forces.

Now Salafi Islamists had two battlefields to unleash the deeply entrenched anti-Americanism that had led to 9/11, in the form of insurgent warfare. Two places were U.S forces and interests could be attacked far easier, therefore far more frequently and far more effectively than any other country such interests exist.

Toppling Saddam was the easy part, sacking the Baathist supporters, some of which made up the police and security forces was the stupid part and led to the creation of another wing of the insurgency. An insurgency that now rocks Iraq with suicide bombings and other terror attacks daily. Both the above are Sunni elements of the insurgency, one fighting against the hated American empire, the other fighting to put Sunnis back into the primary position they had been in under Saddam. The latter adds a sectarian element to the insurgency, which the U.S exacerbated by –again acting stupidly– imposing a majority Shia Transitional Government, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The sectarian misery has built, from its early beginnings of shrines being blown up into two peoples of the same religion attacking each other in almost every way imaginable, driving each other from their homes, and an environment in which nobody feels safe. An environment so corrupted by Jihad, Anti-American propaganda and deep rooted hatred caused by Saddam favouring a minority, part of which were responsible, voluntarily or not, for brutalizing the majority.

I haven’t even mentioned the Kurdish element. The years of oppression by Saddam, crushing their every revolt for an independent Kurdish state with his campaign of ethnic cleansing has led to a prevalence of the same militant Islamic teachings of Afghanistan’s troubled past. As such they make up their own part in Iraq’s misery, fighting for an independent state the hard way: adding to the death and destruction in the hope the U.S will eventually realize that creating three independent states is the only way to end it all. This may prove to be the case.

3000 U.S troops have been killed in Iraq and the occupation isn’t even three years old, which means that more than a thousand U.S troops have been killed every year of the occupation. Increasing the number of U.S troops in a so called “surge” may do no more than give the insurgents more prize targets to kill with their ambush tactics of hit and run, roadside bombs, suicide car bombs and rocket attacks.

What doesn’t help is the fact that any Muslim resistance group fighting occupation is almost guaranteed to be armed and/or funded by a sympathetic and oil-rich Muslim country, as Syria and Iran are showing in Iraq.

In the Lebanon invasion, similar tactics were employed by Hezbollah, another fundamentalist guerrilla group, also allegedly assisted by Syria and Iran. The way those “stirred up” Muslims stood the course of Israel’s organized military, with artillery, air support and even less scruples towards “collateral damage”, supports my argument.I’m not saying that every Muslim country invaded by a superior military will evolve into the state Iraq has become, the chances are they won’t. Iraq, like every Muslim country has its own individual religious and cultural dynamics. A few things are clear though:

The tactics have been set and their effectiveness proven. From now on, every non-Muslim country that ignores the historical lessons and invades a Muslim country, faces a war to decide not whether they will prevail and then restore order, but how long they are prepared to occupy a country partly populated with people who are willing to die to expel them, killing as many as possible in the process.

There is no doubt that the world faces a great threat from religious extremist terrorism, driven by an anti-modernist strand of Islam, interpreted to suit a violently anti-American ideology. This was expanded in 1998 to include U.S allies; almost every country in the western world. The simple fact is that trying to defeat it with the very military that is at the heart [PDF p50] of the anti-Americanism is only doing what the U.S usually does, exacerbating the problem. The new threat we face is not a conventional threat, and it cannot be defeated with conventional warfare.

Unstoppable Iran: Is Military Action the Answer?

Military action may be the only way to stop Iran from achieving weapons grade enrichment, but is it really worth it? Asks, Liam Bailey.

Nobody who knows anything about the current relationship between Iran and the west believes that the latest Resolution, imposing minor sanctions against the Islamic theocracy will have the desired effect of ending Iran’s nuclear aspirations. UN Resolution 1737 was passed unanimously by the 15 member Security Council and prohibits the sale of any materials to Iran that could be used in their “enrichment related, reprocessing or heavy water related activities”. It also imposes restrictions on the movements of twenty-two people or entities involved in the nuclear program, the Ballistic missile program or both as well as freezing their “funds, other financial assets and economic resources.”

The resolution was passed, in a nutshell because of “serious concern that the IAEA Director General’s report of 27 February 2006 (GOV/2006/15) lists a number of outstanding issues and concerns on Iran’s nuclear programme, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension,” and that after three years of intense efforts “the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,” which is guilty until proven innocent. Also because Iran has failed to stop its nuclear activities in line with Resolution 1696, which gave them till Aug 31 to stop all enrichment and other nuclear activities.

The sanctions may yet be increased in frequency, functionality and severity, but Iran will carry on regardless. Many analysts believe that the west’s actions to stop Iran’s enrichment, puts their theocratic back further up and in fact reduces the chances of them terminating the program.

This is supported by the reaction to the resolution from Iranian leadership, since the resolution was passed Rafsanjani has said it will backfire, Ahmadinejad called it invalid, and said that Iran will humiliate the west, and in the event of a military strike, deal them a “historic slap” on the face. He also vowed to accelerate the program. So, accepting that resolutions, sanctions and other externally applied pressure will not effect an Iranian enrichment freeze, what will?

According to the old analogy “everybody has a price”, perhaps Iran could be persuaded to reconsider their decision on the six-nation incentives package, which included assisting Iran’s efforts in civilian nuclear energy and removing resistance to their entry into the World Trade Organization. Iran rejected the package on the grounds that further negotiation was needed on some of the points. The rejection was followed by intense but futile efforts on the part of the EU to iron out any difficulties Iran had with the package.

The E.U’s efforts were futile because Iran’s problems required direct negotiations with the U.S, who refused, demanding Iran stop enriching Uranium first. This was an obstructive, bloody minded and pig-headed policy. Bush still refuses to accept that Iran holds all the cards in the negotiations. Iran is already enriching Uranium without the E.U’s help and Russia is building them a nuclear power plant at Busheur, despite the current stand-off.

A signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is entitled to enrich Uranium for civilian purposes, there is as yet no evidence to suggest Iran’s enrichment is not for civilian purposes, only concerns. Nuclear powers Russia and China are Iran’s biggest defenders. So why would Iran stop what it claims is enrichment for civilian purposes, to gain talks with the U.S about western help with a civilian nuclear power program, when Russia is already assisting them? There is no incentive to accept the incentives package, other than the threat of Israeli, U.S or both using military force, including the threat of a nuclear attack, making it clear why Bush refuses to remove the latter option from the table.

It doesn’t however, make clear why Russia finally agreed with the U.S. and U.K. that sanctions should be imposed on Iran. Russia has recently called for a joint approach on the issue, but previous to their agreeing to sanctions Russia with China had actively impeded every effort to end Iran’s enrichment, accepting only when they had sufficiently watered down the wording and the impact. China is of course heavily depended on Iranian oil and gas to fuel its booming economy. The U.S has been calling for this resolution since shortly after the deadline of Resolution 1696 was ignored, the long delay was caused by the reluctance of Russia and China.

The actions of Russia in particular make me wonder whether they can really be trusted as a partner in ending Iranian enrichment. For a start Iran was invited as an observer to the last meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a trade, military and strategic alliance set up by Russia and China. At the meeting a pledge was made to defend the sovereignty of member states, if you like a verbal military agreement.

Since then the SCO and Collective Security Treaty Organization have held unilateral and bilateral military exercises, both coinciding with massive Iranian war-games. Russia has sold twenty-nine TOR M1 advanced missile Defense systems to Iran. Half of the systems, which are capable of targeting and shooting down the west’s Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, have been delivered.

We can’t expect the threat of a military or even a nuclear strike to pressure Iran into accepting the incentives package, while China and Russia are giving Iran every reason to believe it would have their support in the event of such a strike. Nor can we continue to allow Russia and China to take key roles in both sides of the debate. In civilian life a judge would not be allowed to rule on a case involving a party he had dealings with –like the Russia/Iran arms deal– so Russia should be given the choice: stop selling arms to Iran or be removed from UNSC meetings on ending Iranian enrichment. The U.S has courted controversy and heavy criticism from Russia for imposing sanctions on Russia for its arms deals with Iran.

That isn’t going to happen, the U.S. isn’t going to lift its precondition for talks and Iran isn’t going to meet the precondition. So, the incentives package is dead in the water. With such firm support from two of the world’s super-powers and Iran’s desire to develop their own nuclear knowledge it is doubtful whether any offer would be sufficient incentive to freeze Iranian enrichment anyway. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini confirmed this Monday, saying that Iran will never stop its nuclear work.

So, we’re running out of options fast, perhaps military action is the only way to stop Iran from enriching Uranium…

Such an attack, if mounted by the U.S would likely come under immense pressure from Israel mounted on the most heavily pro-Israel President for decades; Israel is likely pushing for the regime change option. The consequences of such an operation would be, at the least a catastrophic conflict liable to engulf the entire region. If any or all of the SCO members (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) were dragged into the conflict in allegiance to Iran, in turn bringing possible involvement from U.S. allies (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Japan, Israel and the U.K., although the latter two would quite possibly be involved in some capacity from the beginning), a

catastrophic global conflict could become World War III.

Israel may not manage to pressure the U.S into regime change but a pre-emptive strike against the nuclear facilities only. If conventional weapons are used Iran is likely to retaliate against Israel with missiles and may block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil channel. They had threatened this as a consequence of sanctions, now sanctions have been imposed it seems Iran have realized that blocking the Strait would only tighten the noose. Iran could also re-evaluate the consequences of a failed state in Iraq against a bloody defeat for the U.S in its neighboring country if Israel goes it alone, which would undoubtedly need a green light from the U.S in any case. It would be a definite if the U.S were involved in the strike. Such a strike also carries the risk of drawing countries from the opposing strategic alliances.

The Sunday Times reported that Israel is planning an independent strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, many of which are underground, using nuclear bunker busting bombs. Israel has denied the report that brought retaliatory threats from Iran. If such a pre-emptive strike were mounted by Israel, the U.S. or both using tactical nuclear weapons, the world’s fate will be in the hands of Russian and Chinese leaders and whether or not they decide to honor the SCO verbal military agreement and unleash any of their nuclear arsenals to retaliate on Iran’s behalf.

Given such a possible chain reaction of unintended, but foreseeable consequences, I ask:

Wouldn’t it be better to allow Iran to continue enriching and instead apply the current amount of pressure on them to allow IAEA inspectors to roam freely around Iran in search of the covert weapons program the U.S is so sure exists?

The worst case scenario of that course of action would be the inspectors missing something and Iran enriching Uranium to weapons grade, possibly even diverting some and making a few warheads. Now, if you listen to Israeli military advisers, ex generals, think-tanks, lobbyists, and you get the idea, if Iran got nuclear weapons, in a fit of un-bridled, religion induced madness Ahmadinejad would make good on his calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. You have to ask the question, what would Iran gain from wiping Israel off the map?

Below I will briefly cover the possible consequences of several nuclear attack scenarios, the Physicians for Social Responsibility [PDF Chapter 5 p77] paint a more complete picture.

Some people may think Iran would attempt to wipe Israel off the map to give the Palestinians independence.

The only thing it would give the Palestinians is a slow and painful death from the radiation sickness spread by the toxic dust cloud engulfing everything. In the miracle that some of the Palestinians and/or Israelis survived the attack and by some miracle didn’t catch radiation sickness, the land would be infertile and anything that did grow would be full of radiation. They would also stand a much higher chance of catching Leukaemia and It wouldn’t be a gamble whether any children born would be deformed only on the degree of the deformity. That is assuming the Iranian weapons are close to the yield of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Pacific leg of WWII, which is highly unlikely.

A more likely scenario is Iran attacks Israel with whatever they have thrown together as nuclear missiles; thousands of people die and the above consequences are inflicted, but only on a minute fraction of the scale of Israel’s retaliation. The Israeli reaction to such an attack would leave Iran in total devastation, hundreds of thousands maybe even millions killed by the original attack alone, the aftermath as I detailed above would leave hardly anyone in Iran alive and again, with radiation in the ground, all the crops and the water system, they couldn’t survive. Any miraculous survivors of the blasts and their immediate aftermath would have to be airlifted straight into quarantine to be monitored. Iran as we know it would cease to exist.

Even if the Iranian weapon is on a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki or better and Israel was wiped off the map, Iran would still cease to exist after the U.S retaliated on Israel’s behalf. Either way Iran would be no more and the world would hang in the balance of a Russian and Chinese decision.

If anything comes through from Ahmadinejad’s supercharged speeches, apart from strong religious beliefs and utter commitment to continue enrichment, it is unrelenting patriotism. The very patriotism that gives such fervour to his continued defiance, in that he is determined that the state he is so proud to be a part of enjoys the right it is entitled to under International Law.

If it strikes me as slightly hypocritical that the biggest nuclear proliferators in the world should be telling Iran that their signature to the Non-Proliferation Treaty isn’t worth the paper it is written on and they are guilty until proven innocent of breaking it, you can’t blame Ahmadinejad and other patriotic Iranians for their reaction. Ahmadinejad’s patriotism would also surely prevent him from doing anything to risk the total obliteration of his country, which would mean he wouldn’t attack another country with nuclear weapons, especially not Israel.

Unfortunately it looks like Israel will attack Iran, either themselves or using the their U.S lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) widely thought to be the most powerful lobby in America to convince Bush Iran needs to be stopped.

The forecasts I have made in this article could well mean the end of the world and yet I am not running out to build a fall out shelter. Though it may not seem like it from my writing I am ever the optimist. I have written this article in the hope that the U.S will vote for President, the candidate they feel is the least likely to be influenced by the Neocons, AIPAC and Israel. In other words, NOT BUSH, who could well wipe out the whole map trying to keep Israel on it.

Ending the Israel/Palestine Conflict?

I am starting a War Pages think-tank, well blog-tank actually. To be a part of it simply comment on this article with your views on how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict could be resolved and I will select the best comments for the blog-tank.

Open the Debate:

Intent on ousting Hamas, dividing the PA and playing for time, Israel may be missing an achievable dream.

By Liam Bailey

The Gaza ceasefire is now an empty shroud, as Israel, patience exhausted has said the IDF will re-start launching “targeted” attacks on Palestinians launching rockets into Israel from the coastal strip, on average twice daily. So, the cycle will begin, attack, brings defensive attack, brings further attacks, brings defensive attacks… repeat infinite.

The always fragile truce, amid what can only be described as an abhorrent failure by both sides to realize the opportunity it presented, was doomed to failure from the start.

Hamas may be unwilling to recognise Israel but its actions during the ceasefire have proven it a willing partner in any peace process. Only unwilling to succumb to anything that will lessen the chances of a Palestinian state eventually achieved, being worth the years of bloodshed. That includes a unity government that allows Abbas free reign to lead the Palestinian people back down the path of his Israeli and American subservience.

Hamas’ attempts to do what was expected of them and resist the occupation through diplomacy, were not met with acceptance of the fact that they were clearly making an effort to moderate their ways. But by equal efforts to cripple their democratic intentions, because they refuse to recognise Israel, renounce violence and box themselves into a corner.

Israel has existed for many years regardless of who accepts its right to do so. I fail to see what difference Hamas’ recognition would make, like saying, at most twelve words would end Hamas violence, when years of the IDF military supremacy hasn’t.

Hamas’ infinite resilience in the face of the extreme pressure caused by the Israeli/U.S. forced boycott of Hamas governed Palestine, has led to more creative efforts to end their governance. Abbas’ call for new elections was at least partly done for the Palestinian people, realizing that a unity government was not on the horizon he tried to end the Palestinian siege one way or another. It was also undoubtedly done partly to get back into Israel and America’s good books and cheque books, at the expense of his relationship with Hamas and therefore at the expense of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and population.

His recent meeting with Olmert was a sign that it had worked. Olmert agreed to the removal of 27 West Bank check-points, slackening the noose around Gaza and the release of 100 million dollars in tax revenues. Revenues usually collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, under Hamas simply collected by Israel.

Olmert’s concessions to Abbas were undoubtedly an attempt to influence any elections that may be held in the PA by helping Abbas to regain some credibility with the Palestinian people. Just three days later Israel announced its authorization for a new West Bank settlement, already being built in the Jordan Valley, to re-house settlers evicted during the Israeli pullout from Gaza. Palestinians must have wretched at Israel behaving like a god over them; Israel giveth –slightly more freedom and money that was rightfully theirs– and Israel taketh away –yet more land from any future Palestinian state–.

If only Israel’s leaders could see that granting the Palestinians what they want would also be the ideal solution for Israel.

There is currently worry within Israel that falling immigration may result in the balance being tipped against it remaining a predominantly Jewish state. If Israel gave the Palestinians an independent state within the borders as they stood before the 1967 six day war, and a partial right of return, allowing only descendants of those expelled in the 1948 war the right to return, only to the newly formed state, Israel’s Arab population would surely move into the new state. This would put Israel closer than ever to a totally Jewish state if not completing the dream.

Israel’s Arabs may not migrate however, as some people, such as Israeli businessman Reuven Kossover, fear that such a Palestinian state would be racked by poverty and at the mercy of foreign aid for its foreseeable future. There is also a simple solution to that problem:

Palestine’s warm climate would allow the growth of tropical fruits, which could be sold and exported in a global orchard business; grapes could obviously go to the manufacture of Palestinian wines. As well as craft manufacture industries that could also be exported around the world. We have already seen the pyrotechnical capabilities of the Qassam manufacturers, with a little training Palestinian rockets –and other fireworks– could bring happiness instead of misery. In my lifetime I have only seen one Palestinian export, Palestinian clove oil.

How many states can you name that have received more news coverage and publicity in recent years than Israel and Palestine?

According to the proverb that no publicity is bad publicity, the novelty of Palestinian exports and the strong support for the Palestinians plight around the world would ensure new businesses expand and provide jobs very quickly. This would not require heavy or sustained financial aid, but an international or Arab program ensuring Palestinians who desire to set up in business get adequate training in the field they choose. Let’s hope Israel sees sense soon.

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US: End of Middle East Dominance: What Dominance?

Previously suppressed states are exploiting the mess in Iraq and vying for supremacy.By Liam Bailey

With the Baker report suggesting America talks with its staunch adversaries Iran and Syria, and the public’s apparent support for Baker’s findings. It is beginning to look like Bush might finally be forced into –unthinkable for him– acts of history validated common sense. Since talking to Iran and Syria was first suggested by Blair after he gave evidence to the Baker Commission, analysts have been questioning the end of U.S domination in the Middle East.

The question should be: did the U.S ever dominate the Middle East? Sure, unconditionally supporting Israel ensured their influence in that conflict, IDF style. Bombing and shooting the Palestinians into agreement with the U.S’ –fad– peace plan at the time. Meanwhile the U.S exerted little or no influence in Israel’s often ill-advised and frequently illegal actions. Israel currently has little or no influence in Middle East affairs anyway. It couldn’t get by without U.S aid [PDF], let alone suppress the latest Palestinian Intifada.

There was a tradition of U.K and U.S influence in Iran’s monarchical rule after we imposed a suitable Shah. The current stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, and its meddling in Iraq [PDF] show how much things have changed. Not only recently but since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the hostages taken in the U.S embassy during the revolution flipped the bird to U.S influence in Iran.

Iran currently showing disregard for U.S power is a facade to amplify its own strength and help their hegemonic aims.

Syrian diplomats have always adhered strictly to agreements reached with their U.S counterparts. But they have also been close to all-out war over the Israeli Lebanon conflict in 1983. The U.S, recognising that Syria plays a central role in the Middle East and in global Jihad, attempts to exert its influence. And turn the “rogue state” from a supporter of terrorism to a supporter of democracy and U.S hegemony. They have and probably will never succeed in that aim.

The U.S has enjoyed 70 years of good relations with Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, until 9/11 put a significant strain on the “special relationship”. Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Israel during the Israel/Hezbollah conflict and rhetoric of going to war showed that the U.S doesn’t hold much influence over Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq’s case, we all know the current scenario. The U.S has as much influence in Iraq now as any of the rival militia factions. The same influence it has recently had over every other Middle East country, very little.

The U.S has had reasonable influence in Turkey since shortly after World War II, with the exception of the mid-late 70’s when Turkey invaded Cyprus. The U.S’ influence in Turkey crumbled in the build up to the Iraq war. Turkey refusing U.S forces entry to hit Iraq from the North, showed that –unlike Saudi Arabia– Turkey’s loyalty to their Iraqi Muslim brothers and sisters influenced their policy more than U.S relations. U.S aid [PDF] was cut-off 2003. Except a small military grant, which I presume was necessary for Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Relations fell apart in Mar. 2005, when the U.S ambassador to Turkey resigned after two years. Because Turkey’s government came out in support of their President’s decision to visit Syria in early April that year, despite the U.S warning against it. Also for ignoring the ambassador’s calls for Turkey to join an international coalition concerning Syria.

The U.S weighs its relationship with and influence of Egypt perhaps higher than any other Middle East country, because of its leadership role in the region. A role which was set when Egypt was actively fighting Israel and sought military aid from the Soviets. Several other Arab states shortly followed suit. U.S Israel relations improved after the 1979 peace treaty was signed with Israel. Since then the U.S has given billions of dollars [PDF] in military and financial aid to sustain Egypt’s moderate voice in Arab councils. Persuade less moderate regimes of the benefits of compromise and to maintain the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.

The latter has been more successful than the other two by far. As the U.S failed to realize that the feelings of Egypt’s leaders toward Israel’s treatment of their Arab Palestinian brothers didn’t change overnight. More likely they realised they would be in a much better position to help the Palestinians in every way with a whole whack of U.S aid.

Jordan’s monarchy has perhaps the best relationship with the U.S. The U.S began providing Jordan with economic and military aid in 1951 and 1957 respectively. Relations were slightly soured by Jordan’s reluctance to participate in the first Iraq war to liberate Kuwait. Relations improved throughout the 1990’s as Jordan began to take a more favourable view of normalization of relations with Israel. Over the years the U.S has provided billions of dollars [PDF] in aid to Jordan. In return Jordan provided logistical support in the Afghanistan war, and, informally the same in the current Iraq war, although the monarchy was publicly opposed.

King Abdullah’s policies of normalization with Israel and alliance with the U.S cause much unrest from Jordan’s Islamic fundamentalist groups. Like the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, an influential part of the political mainstream. It also causes unrest in parts of the Palestinian communities, and in prominent professional and trade organizations.

The Middle East and its rich oil reserves have always been at the fore-front of U.S policy. So much so that they have taken their eye off the ball elsewhere; allowing China to become the main influence in Asia and enter the fight for global supremacy. The North Korean nuke test is another example of the Bush administration taking their eye off the ball.

Given all this focus on their Middle East policy it is ludicrous that it has descended into such a farce.

Little wonder as it is largely the world’s most backward foreign policy. Unconditionally supporting a country surrounded by enemies –Israel–, while hoping to exert influence over its enemies. Is like a boxer’s coach shouting orders at the opposing fighter. Stupid. Previously however the U.S had tried to exert their influence over Israel’s enemies by diplomacy in the main. Bush Jnr coming in with his complete ignorance of foreign policy and its relation to even recent history, alongside his policy of never talking to your adversary. Combined with the backward policies above, are perhaps the main reasons for the current state of the Middle East.

Something else I find laughable however is Bush Snr, responsible for another reason for the current mess. Coming in now and telling his son what he needs to do in Iraq. If he had honoured his statements to the Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish populations, by ordering U.S forces to go on into Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, in the first gulf war 1991. Embracing the uprising started by the Shia in the south and driving Iraqi forces into the Kurdish uprising in the North. Both of which were started because of Bush’s suggestion of support.

Saddam would undoubtedly have been easily defeated. As he was 2003, but the occupying U.S or U.S/U.N forces would have probably had the support of the Kurdish minority and Shia Majority. Giving the Sunni’s no choice but to join the new diplomatic efforts or be left out of Iraq’s democratic future. As oppose to miss-trust for Bush Jnr by Shia and Kurd’s after being lied to by his dad before him. And resentment because of the massacres his lies led them into.

I believe had Bush Snr done this Iraq would have been a stable democracy by now, certainly closer than has been for decades.

In closing, the U.S never really had much influence in Middle Eastern affairs. The little it did have from supplying heavy financial aid to needy countries in prominent positions. And U.S and Israel’s superior military force were sufficient to secure the things they really needed and manipulate affairs to ensure no-one else gained more control.

The Iraq war in 2003 showing that U.S military force was useless against sporadic Jihad’s guerrilla warfare. Accelerated the rate at which the little Middle East influence the U.S had is disappearing. All that remains is moderate influence in return for heavy aid to countries with even less influence –than the U.S– in Middle East affairs.

The rich and influential Middle East countries are exploiting the exposed weakness to secure their own hegemony.

It will be interesting to watch the changing political and military landscapes in the coming months. Especially if a serious U.S strategy shift in Iraq coincides with a policy shift in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Liam Bailey is a writer from the UK, he runs the War Pages weblog and can be contacted by e-mail.

Gaza: Shock, Awe and Uncertainty 2006

The biggest shock in operation “Autumn Clouds” was the strength of the Gaza Palestinians resolve and Israel’s response. By Liam Bailey

Operation Autumn Clouds was very similar to all Israeli operations against its Palestinian occupants in recent times. Openly disproportionate, indiscriminate against civilians, disregarding of International Law to break their enemies resolve and unsuccessful in their aims. The current truce offers hope that Israel’s leaders may have finally realized killing civilians, especially children in their droves, won’t eventually prompt the Palestinian majority -those not active in the resistance- to say enough is enough and pressure the terrorists to stop attacking Israel… Only compromise on both sides will bring peace.

A lot has happened in Gaza over the last few days… The Israeli Security Cabinet proposed expanding the Gaza offensive in a more determined effort to halt the Qassam attacks Wed. 22. There were 80 rocket attacks in the ten days before the meeting. The day after the meeting; Nov. 23 Israel rejected what was hailed as a landmark truce offer from Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib. Habib said Hamas and Fatah, as well as several smaller groups had agreed an offer to halt rocket attacks if Israel halts its Gaza offensive, in a meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh has since confirmed the report. An explanation for the Thursday rejection was given by Prime Minister Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin “The suggestion concerns a partial ceasefire, limited to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in exchange for a total halt to Israeli operations on all fronts. This is not serious,” Adding, “We want to see quiet in the Gaza Strip.” Israel’s response was understandable given, that the proposed truce didn’t offer an end to suicide attacks.

According to the official Palestinian Authority (P.A) website President Mahmoud Abbas addressed Fatah officials Friday: “We do not need these rockets because they are no match for Israel’s weaponry and because they draw a violent and harsh Israeli response,” And Saturday, despite the rhetoric of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal based in Damascus, who threatened a 3rd and more violent Intifada unless Israel returned the land gained in the six day war within six months. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and P.A President Abbas were again meeting with all factions and resistance groups to discuss a new truce offer. When all groups had reached agreement to halt all attacks from Gaza –including suicide bombings- from 6:00 am Sunday (4:00am GMT) Abbas telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, late Saturday.

Abbas told Olmert “That all the Palestinian groups are committed to the agreement” and asked that Israel stop all activities in the Gaza strip and “withdraw all forces,” according to Miri Eisin Olmert’s spokeswoman. “The prime minister … told Abbas that Israel would respond favourably, as Israel was operating in the Gaza Strip in response to the violence. With the end of violence, Israel would be happy to withdraw its troops.” Eisin said. The two leaders agreed the mutual truce, which didn’t apply to the West Bank, starting from 6:00am Sunday (4:00am GMT). Israel withdrew all forces in the hours running up to the deadline and according to a spokesperson, Hamas fired its last rockets half an hour before the truce began.

The truce held Sunday, despite two early breeches; rocket attacks by Hamas’ militant wing and Islamic Jihad just hours after the agreement came into effect. The attacks were followed by announcements from the two factions that they were committed to the agreement if Israel observed it. In response to the breeches hundreds of Palestinian security force personnel were deployed to the border with Israel in order to prevent further rocket attacks and Palestinian Prime Minister, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh voiced hope on Israel’s adherence to the agreement, calling on all factions to observe the truce. Israel showing extreme restraint meant there were no further Palestinian rocket attacks Sunday. Israel is therefore worthy of high praise because its restraint allowed the ceasefire to take hold from its shaky start.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, softened his rhetoric Sunday in response to the strengthening truce, saying: ”if the door is sealed and the horizon is closed (for creating a Palestinian state) then we have to look for another choice.” In an interview on Egyptian television.

Israel’s actions early Monday morning, in my opinion cancelled out the praise for their restraint on Sunday, in that their West Bank raid could well have ended this excellent opportunity for peace. Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in an overnight raid in the West Bank town of Qabatiya. One of the dead was a wanted militant affiliated with the Hamas Popular Resistance Committees; responsible for many of the rocket attacks on northern Israel. The other was a woman, shot as she tried to run off with the dead militant’s gun. The killings caused much Palestinian anger, but the feared violent response from Gaza never materialized, only two rockets were fired from the strip, three according to some reports. In a planned speech Monday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered to release frozen funds and prisoners and reduce check-points if the Palestinians made a similarly serious push for peace. Olmert also said that Israel would “uproot” settlements and pull out of the West Bank as part of a final peace deal. Adding: “I hold out my hand in peace to our Palestinian neighbours in the hope that it won’t be returned empty.”

Olmert’s sudden willingness to make concessions for peace is a reflection of his plummeting popularity over the handling of the Lebanon war. And his months of overestimating the IDF power and underestimating the Gaza Palestinians resolve in two operationally massive failures.

If Israel’s latest operation, Autumn Clouds hadn’t failed so miserably in stopping the rocket attacks from Gaza, I don’t believe Olmert would have been making any such offer. When asked about the planned expansion of the operation an IDF spokesman said last week that there had been 157 rockets fired from the strip in November- attacks which killed two Israelis in Sderot. Despite the 105 Palestinians killed, according to medical staff quoted by the Palestinian maan news agency, since the operation began Nov.1. An operation total that does not tell the misery caused by the deaths of innocent civilians, like the 20 Palestinians killed, mostly children in the inerrant shelling of Beit Hanoun Nov. 8, another example of Israel’s indiscriminate use of its superior weaponry. Attacks like Beit Hanoun were meant to break the Palestinian resolve, but with images of crying fathers carrying their babies –plural- to be buried, the attacks strengthened the Palestinian’s will to resist.

Autumn Clouds was the continuance of Operation Summer Rains. Between the two, 400 Palestinians had been killed since Summer Rains began Jun 2006 as the biggest military operation in Gaza since the Israeli disengagement ended Israeli military rule in Gaza Sep. 2005. Disengagement however didn’t end the occupation as far as the Palestinians were concerned.

“Israeli troops surround Gaza, its aircraft fly over it and it has closed the crossing to Egypt” -splitting families and- “stranding hundreds of people.” “Some of those who shelled these Qassam rockets are … provoking Israel, but Israel is very much provoking them because of all kinds of occupation and terror actions against Palestinian civilians. Do not forget the Beit Hanoun massacre,” Mohamed Edwan head of the Palestinian president’s press office told World Peace Herald. Disengagement was presented as a change in Israel’s strategy toward the occupied territories, unfortunately that was as far as it went. The disproportionate violence continued, as did the Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israel fired between 7000 and 9000 heavy artillery shells into Gaza, killing 80 Palestinians in six months between its withdrawal in September 2005 and March 2006. Palestinian rocket attacks are estimated at 1000 for the same period. A further 5100 Israeli artillery rounds were fired tit for tat between the end of Mar. 2006 and the end of May 2006, with 800 Qassam rocket attacks. Operation Summer Rains was sparked off by a cross border raid Jun. 25 in which militants from several Palestinian groups, including Hamas’ military wing killed two IDF soldiers and captured Corporal Gilad Shalit.

Within hours of operation summer rains starting several Palestinian civilian population centres were targeted. Bridges were destroyed effectively splitting Gaza in two and Gaza’s only power station was destroyed leaving the population without power, in the re-processing plants this meant no clean water. Dealing with the trauma of almost constant bombardment and frequent ground force incursions, both killing many Palestinian civilians. While an international boycott of the elected Hamas government placed them in extreme poverty, combined, I believe, to leave Palestinians with only one thing; their religion to believe in, their religion to get them through.

Like Operation Autumn Clouds, Operation Summer Rains failed to achieve its aims of ending the frequent Qassam rocket attacks launched against Israel from the Gaza strip, and freeing captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit. The rocket attacks continuing, –before the truce- despite Israel’s increasing retaliation, for me, was a sign that the operations, like all Israel’s disproportionate actions in the last 20 years, were not diminishing the Palestinians resolve. So, perhaps Olmert has finally realized that Israel could send every IDF soldier into Gaza, under the heaviest bombardment and artillery shelling of the conflict and the Gazan’s resolve would remain intact. Rockets would still land in Israel. The Palestinians would still fight by whatever means available for the return of their holy land. The right of their brothers, descendants of those cruelly expelled by Israel 1948-49 to return to an independent Palestinian state. And to ensure that the thousands killed in the decades of conflict haven’t died in vain.

According to Ghazi Hamad, a PA spokesman, Hamas’ response to Olmert’s speech Monday was “This is a conspiracy. This is a new manoeuvre. Olmert is speaking about the Palestinian state without giving details about the borders.”

During his Monday afternoon speech Olmert also said that in return for his concessions, Palestinians would have to “renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to live in peace and security and give up their demands to allow refugees from the 1948 Mideast War to return to their homes in what is now Israel.” Hamad responded: “The Palestinians cannot give up on the issue of the refugees. It is something approved by U.N. resolutions and it is a main part of the Palestinian cause.” The same stumbling blocks, -official borders and right of return- that have effectively ended all previous efforts for peace.

There will be no peace in the Middle East till Israel is ready to compromise and make firm commitments about Palestinian state borders. Firmly committing to returning the land it gained in the 1967 six day war would certainly be a step in the right direction. If Israel did this perhaps the Palestinians would in return compromise on some of the terms of the right to return, i.e. only direct descendants of those expelled in 1948-49 would have the right and only returning to the Palestinian state. Israel can’t grant full right of return while maintaining a Jewish state, because of the predicted influx of Arabs into Israel. A recent poll however, suggested most Palestinians wouldn’t return to Israel; only to an independent Palestinian state, if that can ever be established.

As I detailed in my last article, Israel currently has no incentive to make any sort of compromise. Only the UN, which –largely because of the U.S- has failed miserably in the past, can motivate Israel into such a compromise, but only along with a change in U.S policy towards the Jewish state. I have come to believe a new resolution ordering Israel to return the land taken in the 1967 war. Create an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as most of the Palestinian militant groups call for. And allow Palestinians directly descended to those expelled in the 1948 war to return and live peacefully in the newly formed Palestinian state. Along with a U.S threat to stop acting as a shield, financially and militarily unless Israel follows the resolution to the letter. Is possibly the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

An earlier version of this article was published by Arabic Media Internet Network and OhmyNews International.

Does U.S Support Prevent Israel from Commiting to Peace?

Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians… By Liam BaileyThe United Nations General Assembly finally passed a resolution condemning Israel for killing 19 civilians in an artillery attack on Beit Hanoun. The resolution put forward by Qatar and other Arab UN member states was passed Nov. 17 2006, 9 days after the errant shells that were so costly to civilian life.

Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman walked out after saying the “one-sided” resolution lends a hand to terror and that he would be better holding a press conference down the road. Despite this and similar criticism from U.S ambassador John Bolton the resolution was overwhelmingly passed, with 156 of the 192 member General Assembly members accepting the resolution’s “tweaked” wording. Seven rejected the resolution and there were six abstentions. The General Assembly has none of the powers of the Security Council, such as imposing sanctions or possibly even authorizing a UN peacekeeping force. As such the resolution is little more than rhetorical condemnation.

Practically the same resolution was presented to the Security Council, again by Qatar and other Arab member states, calling for an end to the violence on both sides. The U.S vetoed the resolution, with Bolton calling it “unbalanced,” “biased against Israel,” and “politically motivated.” If such wanton death or excessive (collective) punishment were being inflicted on a civilian population by any other country than Israel, I personally believe a U.N. security council resolution would have long since been passed trying to put a stop to the violence. This suggests that the U.S. supports Israel’s actions unquestioningly.

This support is also visible in U.S financial aid to Israel, which, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, using Congressional research figures [PDF] from 2005 has been between US$1.7 billion and US$4.9 billion per year since 1976, with varying amounts going straight back into the U.S. buying advanced weapons and military technology. The same CRS report, cited on the Jewish Virtual Library estimated U.S aid to Israel for 2006 as U.S$2.56 billion: a U.S$2.28 billion military grant, 240 million economic grant and a 40 million dollar grant for the resettlement of Jewish refugees.

In the current climate Israel is seen by the U.S. a staunch ally in the War on Terror, Bush and Olmert standing side by side in the face of Islamic extremist terrorism.

Comparing the violent acts of the Hamas militant wing and the many other Palestinian militant groups resisting the occupation to the indiscriminate and unnecessary terror that Al Qaeda and similar groups are inflicting on the world is not only a big mistake, but is also the reason that the biggest obstacle to Middle East peace is the lack of Israeli commitment to that goal.

Ahdaf Soueif, who writes on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the Guardian and Eyal Weisman, architect and prominent Middle East liberal writer both share my views on Israel’s commitment, I asked them both this question by e-mail:

Do you think the lack of Israeli commitment over the decades has been a major factor in the failure to resolve the conflict?

Both answered: “Yes”

Eyal Weizman is currently lecturing at Goldsmith’s college London, part of his lecture is on his forthcoming book Hollow Land, to be published in 2007 by Verso. The book includes the following excerpt:

“The chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, Dan Halutz, confirms that the Israeli army sees the conflict as “unresolvable”. It has “geared itself to operate within an environment saturated with conflict and within a future of permanent violence … it sees itself acting just under the threshold of international sanctions … keeping the conflict on a flame low enough for Israeli society to be able to live and prosper within it.”

So, there you have it, Israel’s leadership doesn’t want peace. Israel’s UN ambassador also said before walking out of the General Assembly meeting on the shelling of Beit Hanoun, that the debate offered the Hamas government no incentive to renounce their ways of terror. Let’s look at incentives…

Since suicide bomb attacks effectively ceased with the erection of the separating wall, Israeli civilians have been relatively safe in the conflict. Although the Qassam rockets fired regularly from the Gaza strip by Palestinian militants are extremely disturbing and regularly cause damage to property, the thousands fired have killed nine Israeli’s this year. An Amnesty U.S.A total of 20 Israeli’s killed by Palestinian armed groups this year, is a stark contrast to the 240 Palestinians killed by Israel in the same period.

Therefore all Palestinians, including the Hamas government have one big incentive for renouncing terror and seeking peace: the heavy civilian death toll of every upsurge in Israeli retaliation. The Israeli leadership has no such incentive.

As I said Israel has received heavy financial aid from its U.S allies throughout its decades of conflict with its Palestinian occupants. Israeli leaders must wonder therefore whether achieving a sustainable peace in the on-going conflict would result in U.S aid being reduced. This is an incentive for Israel to keep the conflict going.

I also said that the latest U.S veto suggested that Israel enjoys unquestioned U.S support in the UN, which has a history of speaking the truth about Israeli actions. Add the latest veto to the 40 resolutions critical of Israel vetoed by the U.S since 1972 and it becomes clear just how unquestioning the U.S’ support for Israel’s military actions is. Therefore, whether I am right that Israel isn’t fully committed to peace, for whatever reason, or not, this unquestioning support from the U.S would certainly allow them to suppress the Palestinians sufficiently, as -Dan Halutz- suggests, to make such a policy viable.

Therefore if we are to see peace in the Middle East, the U.S has to change its attitude towards Israel. I believe if the U.S. stopped its unquestioning support of Israel in the U.N., perhaps allowing resolutions and possibly even sanctions against the Jewish state, alongside an ultimatum of cutting U.S. aid unless Israel’s leadership commits fully to achieving a sustainable peace with their Palestinian neighbours — firstly by sticking to promises and adhering to past resolutions, possibly by making more concessions, and certainly by being more willing to compromise — Israel’s leadership would become far more committed to peace. I put this to Ahdaf Soueif and Eyal Weisman:

Do you think Israel would be more committed to peace if the U.S allowed resolutions against Israel and threatened to withdraw U.S aid if Israel doesn’t make more concessions to achieve sustainable peace with the Palestinians?

Again, both answered: “Yes”

As the lack of commitment by Israel’s leadership has been such a factor in the failure to resolve the conflict. I believe such increased commitment by Israel would greatly increase the chances of sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If this was followed by an international peace conference as is currently being talked about who knows, there could finally be a lasting peace in the Middle East.

This article was published by OhmyNews International and Arabic Media Internet Network

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