Appearing for the first time in an Arab nation since his 2009 address in Cairo, Obama pledged an additional $200 million in aid to Jordan this year to help address the growing needs of almost half a million Syrian refugees, equal to roughly 10 percent of the kingdom’s population.
The desalination revolution
How Israel beat the drought
This country was on the brink of water catastrophe, reduced to running relentless ad campaigns urging Israelis to conserve water even as it raised prices and cut supplies to agriculture. Now, remarkably, the crisis is over.
By David Horovitz February 26, 2013,
Until a couple of years ago, Israeli radio and TV regularly featured commercials warning that the country was “drying out.”
In one of the most powerful TV ad campaigns, celebrities including singer Ninet Tayeb, model Bar Refaeli and actor Moshe Ivgy highlighted the “years of drought” and the “falling level of the Kinneret.”
As they spoke plaintively to camera, their features started to crack and peel — like the country — for lack of moisture.
So compelling was this ad, so resonant its impact, I hadn’t actually realized it was no longer on the air. Alexander Kushnir put me straight. “We decided it simply wasn’t justified to alarm Israelis in this way any longer,” said Kushnir, who heads Israel’s Water Authority.
How so? Israelis don’t need to watch their water use any more? Isn’t this region one of the world’s most parched? Haven’t we been warned for years that the next Middle East war will be fought over water?
Kushnir’s answers: Yes, Israelis must still be wise with their water use. Yes, emphatically, this is a desert region, desperately short of natural water. And yes, we have indeed been worried for years about the possibility of water shortages provoking conflict.
But for Israel, for the foreseeable future, Kushnir says, the water crisis is over. And not because this happens to have been one of the wettest winters in years. Rather, he says, an insistent refusal to let the country be constrained by insufficient natural water sources — a refusal that dates back to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to build the National Water Carrier in the 1950s, the most significant infrastructure investment of Israel’s early years — led Israel first into large-scale water recycling, and over the past decade into major desalination projects. The result, as of early 2013, is that the Water Authority feels it can say with confidence that Israel has beaten the drought.
Alexander Kushnir, head of the Water Authority (photo credit: Courtesy)
Speaking to The Times of Israel from the authority’s offices in Tel Aviv, Kushnir identifies that refusal to “rely on fate” as the key to a genuine strategic achievement — a rare, highly positive change in an age and a region where most of Israel’s challenges appear to be worsening, not receding, much less disappearing.
“How did we beat the water shortage? Because we said we would. We decided we would,” says Kushnir, a big man with a warm smile and a robust Russian accent. “And once you’ve made that decision, you build the tools to reduce your dependence. We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short. The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region. But we decided early on that we were developing a modern state. So we were required to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life.”
The National Water Carrier — which takes water from the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) south through the whole country to Beersheba and beyond — exemplified Israel’s ambition. Contemplated even before the modern state was founded, its planning and initial construction were “a dominant feature of the first Ben-Gurion government — an unprecedented investment,” Kushnir notes. “It stressed our desire to achieve a different reality.”
Carrying almost 2 million cubic meters a day nationwide, that supply line, together with water from underground aquifers, kept Israel watered through the 70s. By the 1980s, though “we had a bigger population, bigger needs and the natural resources were overstretched. So we experimented with a small desalination plant in Eilat. And we began recycling purified sewage, and bringing industry into purifying water.”
“Use any superlatives you like,” urges Kushnir, to describe the fact that, today, “over 80% of our purified sewage goes back into agricultural use. The next best in the OECD is Spain with 17-18%. It’s so justified energy-wise, and environmentally as well.”
But even these innovations weren’t enough to meet the needs of an ever-growing population through the 1990s and into the 2000s, the more so when the rains failed. Average rainfall in Israel is about 1.2 billion cubic meters. But in relatively dry years, it can sink to 900 million.
As the gulf between available water resources and needs widened, Israeli agriculture moved away from water-intensive crops and pioneered enormously improved efficiency, with trailblazing drip irrigation techniques. Israel also increased the use of brackish water in agriculture. And all that still wasn’t good enough. “We knew we had to be careful not to hurt our natural resources,” says Kushnir. “Ultimately, we had no choice but to reduce the supply of natural water to agriculture, and to increase prices, which hurt our agricultural sector.”
Plainly, this was no long-term solution. Elsewhere in the region, poorly managed countries were over-drilling, over-using, and risking major damage to natural sources. “In Syria, for instance, they drilled wells everywhere and destroyed aquifers,” he says. “They had irrational, erratic water management and a lack of government policy.” Even before two years of civil war began, Syrians turned on their taps and got nothing most days of the week.
“By 2000 our balance was really strained,” says Kushnir. “We would have had to cut back drastically in agriculture or industry or home use and we weren’t prepared to do that. We didn’t want to switch off the water to a population in Israel which has enough problems to deal with.”
The solution was desalination, on a major scale — the third phase in a water revolution that had begun with the water carrier and continued with recycling. The first large desalination plant came on line in Ashkelon in 2005, followed by Palmahim and Hadera. By the end of this year, when the Soreq and Ashdod plants are working, there’ll be five plants — built privately at a cost of NIS 6-7 billion (about $2 billion).
Israel uses 2 billion cubic meters of water per year — which is actually a little less than a decade ago, as efficiencies have been introduced in agriculture (which uses 700 million), and water-saving awareness has permeated. Of that two billion, half will be “artificially” manufactured by year’s end — 600 million cubic meters from those desalination plants, and 400 from purified sewage and brackish water.
“We’re not the world’s biggest desalinators,” notes Kushnir, “but no one has made the shift so fast to a situation where half of its water needs are filled from ‘artificial’ sources. And it means we are now ready for the next decade, without dramatic dependence on rainfall fluctuations.”
Kushnir regards this as a remarkable achievement — “a lesson for the rest of the world,” he says, “or at least those many parts of the world that are grappling with variants of the difficulties Israel has overcome.”
So the “Israel’s drying out” ads have gone off the air, and the panicked warnings are over. But that doesn’t mean Israelis should now wash their cars with sloshing abandon, shower for hours, or hose their lawns (if they’re lucky enough to have one) day and night.
“In our region, you always have to save water,” Kushnir stresses. “There has to be intelligent water use. But I’m not going to scream at people anymore.”
The campaigns were demonstrably effective; they reduced water use by at least 10 percent, Kushnir says. “In 2000, it was 100 cubic meters per person per year. Nowadays it’s 90. That saved us a desalination plant.”
But Israel can afford to relax, at least a little. “Our job is to ensure that when you turn on the tap, water comes out,” says Kushnir. “Well, we’ve done that. People have to continue to be smart. This isn’t London or Washington, DC. You have to use water as appropriate to our region. There has to be awareness that water is a precious resource, and we have to manufacture much of it, and that costs money. The manufacture also creates carbon dioxide and that affects the environment. So, I’m not trying to scare the public. You want water, here’s water. Use it. Use it as you want, but use it wisely.”
Where does Kushnir stand on global warming? Does he see it impacting annual rainfall? “There are dramatic changes in water fall,” he responds. “We need to be prepared for graver, longer droughts. If we see global warming having more of an effect, we’ll have to increase the desalination factor. If not, we’ll stay at the current fifty-fifty.
“Personally,” he goes on, “I’m a bit skeptical that global warming is a consequence of human activity. There is partial proof that human activity has exacerbated it. [But] it might be normal fluctuations. Remember,” he adds, “I’m supposed to be skeptical when I decide where to spend our billions.”
For all the announced success, should we be concerned that it might have come too late — that desalination should have been implemented earlier, reducing the heavy pumping from the Kinneret and the aquifers?
“Yes, we could have started desalination earlier. The damage to our natural resources would have been lighter,” Kushnir agrees. “We came very close to the black lines in the aquifers and the Kinneret which could have caused multi-year damage. Did we do harm? I hope not. But we’re moving away from the black lines now, even from the warning red lines. The immediate refilling and rehabilitation of the Sea of Galilee looks nice, but the aquifers are the key and we’re still 1 billion cubic meters to the optimal levels. Yet we’re legitimately optimistic.” (As of late February, the Sea of Galilee was at 210.24 meters below sea level, its highest level in seven years, which is a healthy 2.65 meters above the “lower red line” and 1.56 meters below the “upper red line” — the point at which the lake is considered full.)
At the same time as desalination has supplemented natural sources, he adds, Israel has also become more efficient in the collection of rainfall. “As we improve, our aquifers will refill. Our springs will fill up. Then we’ll really have done our bit.”
What about the rest of the immediate neighborhood, those who work with Israel, and those who are hostile to Israel?
Kushnir says Israel supplies an annual 100 million cubic meters in total to the Palestinian Authority (30 million) and to Jordan (70 million), in line with formal agreements. He says the PA has failed to develop all the infrastructure necessary to maximize available water, and would reach “reasonable, appropriate levels” if it did so. “They can take quite a lot from the eastern aquifer. There are natural sources they didn’t develop. It’s detailed in the interim agreements.” He also says that among Jewish settlers in the West Bank, water use is similar to that inside sovereign Israel.
Kushnir says he meets with the head of the PA’s water authority, Dr. Shaddad Attili. “We speak to them all the time and we tell them how we managed, including by purifying sewage.”
Attili, for his part, last October accused Israel of charging “extortionate” prices for the water it supplies, and the PA has claimed that Israel’s refusal to let it drill in various locations above aquifers, as well as disappointing results from the developments it has introduced, force it to continue to depend upon those Israeli supplies.
“Our water market is no longer subsidized by the state,” Kushnir responds, “not since 2007.”
As for Jordan, Kushnir says the two countries work together effectively. Ever since the Israel-Jordan border demarcation was adjusted under the 1994 peace accord, Jordan has allowed Israel to maintain its drilling facilities inside what became Jordanian territory in the south, “and we help them in the north.”
It was King Abdullah’s father Hussein who would warn about water shortages prompting the next Middle East war. As far as Kushnir is concerned, the Israeli-Jordanian working relationship where water is concerned assuages any such worry. “There is such good mutual respect and interest,” he says. “We help each other. [Relatively speaking,] they have water; their challenge is how to deliver it. There’s the Red-Dead project where we can argue about the specifics. They’re thinking of desalination in Aqaba. They have a plan for use of brackish water. They can solve their problems overall, and we’ll be happy to help.
Beyond Jordan, though, has the fear of drought-stoked conflict disappeared? Israel, Syria and Lebanon have long contested water rights, and intermittently accused each other of abuses. Gaza faces acute water shortages.
“We know that geostrategic changes in the region can endanger our water sources,” Kushnir allows. “We certainly can’t afford to give up our natural resources.”
Treading delicately, Kushnir notes that, despite the new successes, the Dead Sea, for instance, is “missing billions of cubic meters.” One day, he muses, “Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel could potentially redirect the waters of the Litani River,” in Lebanon, to begin to address that challenge. “Of course, he adds, with magnificent understatement, “we would have to be in a situation of constructive dialogue.”
For all that Israel’s new water health is legitimately hailed as a remarkable achievement, that utopian vision — of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel engaged in “constructive dialogue” — would seem beyond the foreseeable ambitions of even the most skilled and optimistic of rainmakers.
Thomas Friedman tells the world that the current uphevals in Syria started from lack of water, enhanced by the fast growing population ruled by a represive corrupt regime with outside money fomenting sectarian and religious passions. Then Assad’s cronies bought up the small farms, drilled for water, drove the farmers to the cities where they found it hard to make a living – so they rebelled. They say the drought came from Allah, but the misery from Assad and his Alawites.
Without Water, Revolution.
Published: May 18, 2013 12 Comments
TEL ABYAD, Syria — I just spent a day in this northeast Syrian town. It was terrifying — much more so than I anticipated — but not because we were threatened in any way by the Free Syrian Army soldiers who took us around or by the Islamist Jabhet al-Nusra fighters who stayed hidden in the shadows. It was the local school that shook me up.
Thomas L. Friedman by Josh Haner/The New York Times
As we were driving back to the Turkish border, I noticed a school and asked the driver to turn around so I could explore it. It was empty — of students. But war refugees had occupied the classrooms and little kids’ shirts and pants were drying on a line strung across the playground. The basketball backboard was rusted, and a local parent volunteered to give me a tour of the bathrooms, which he described as disgusting. Classes had not been held in two years. And that is what terrified me. Men with guns I’m used to. But kids without books, teachers or classes for a long time — that’s trouble. Big trouble.
They grow up to be teenagers with too many guns and too much free time, and I saw a lot of them in Tel Abyad. They are the law of the land here now, but no two of them wear the same uniform, and many are just in jeans. These boys bravely joined the adults of their town to liberate it from the murderous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, but now the war has ground to a stalemate, so here, as in so many towns across Syria, life is frozen in a no-man’s land between order and chaos. There is just enough patched-up order for people to live — some families have even rigged up bootleg stills that refine crude oil into gasoline to keep cars running — but not enough order to really rebuild, to send kids to school or to start businesses.
So Syria as a whole is slowly bleeding to death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You can’t help but ask whether it will ever be a unified country again and what kind of human disaster will play out here if a whole generation grows up without school.
“Syria is becoming Somalia,” said Zakaria Zakaria, a 28-year-old Syrian who graduated from college with a major in English and who acted as our guide. “Students have now lost two years of school, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if this goes on for two more years it will be like Somalia, a failed country. But Somalia is off somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Syria is the heart of the Middle East. I don’t want this to happen to my country. But the more it goes on, the worse it will be.”
This is the agony of Syria today. You can’t imagine the war here continuing for another year, let alone five. But when you feel the depth of the rage against the Assad government and contemplate the sporadic but barbaric sect-on-sect violence, you can’t imagine any peace deal happening or holding — not without international peacekeepers on the ground to enforce it. Eventually, we will all have to have that conversation, because this is no ordinary war.
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.
I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.
“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.
Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.
Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”
Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution. Just ask those who were here, starting with Faten, whom I met in her simple flat in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. Faten, 38, a Sunni, fled there with her son Mohammed, 19, a member of the Free Syrian Army, who was badly wounded in a firefight a few months ago. Raised in the northeastern Syrian farming village of Mohasen, Faten, who asked me not to use her last name, told me her story.
She and her husband “used to own farmland,” said Faten. “We tended annual crops. We had wheat, barley and everyday food — vegetables, cucumbers, anything we could plant instead of buying in the market. Thank God there were rains, and the harvests were very good before. And then suddenly, the drought happened.”
What did it look like? “To see the land made us very sad,” she said. “The land became like a desert, like salt.” Everything turned yellow.
Did Assad’s government help? “They didn’t do anything,” she said. “We asked for help, but they didn’t care. They didn’t care about this subject. Never, never. We had to solve our problems ourselves.”
So what did you do? “When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, ‘It’s enough.’ So we decided to move to the city. I got a government job as a nurse, and my husband opened a shop. It was hard. The majority of people left the village and went to the city to find jobs, anything to make a living to eat.” The drought was particularly hard on young men who wanted to study or marry but could no longer afford either, she added. Families married off daughters at earlier ages because they couldn’t support them.
Faten, her head conservatively covered in a black scarf, said the drought and the government’s total lack of response radicalized her. So when the first spark of revolutionary protest was ignited in the small southern Syrian town of Dara’a, in March 2011, Faten and other drought refugees couldn’t wait to sign on. “Since the first cry of ‘Allahu akbar,’ we all joined the revolution. Right away.” Was this about the drought? “Of course,” she said, “the drought and unemployment were important in pushing people toward revolution.”
ZAKARIA ZAKARIA was a teenager in nearby Hasakah Province when the drought hit and he recalled the way it turned proud farmers, masters of their own little plots of land, into humiliated day laborers, working for meager wages in the towns “just to get some money to eat.” What was most galling to many, said Zakaria, was that if you wanted a steady government job you had to bribe a bureaucrat or know someone in the state intelligence agency.
The best jobs in Hasakah Province, Syria’s oil-producing region, were with the oil companies. But drought refugees, virtually all of whom were Sunni Muslims, could only dream of getting hired there. “Most of those jobs went to Alawites from Tartous and Latakia,” said Zakaria, referring to the minority sect to which President Assad belongs and which is concentrated in these coastal cities. “It made people even more angry. The best jobs on our lands in our province were not for us, but for people who come from outside.”
Only in the spring of 2011, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, did the Assad government start to worry about the drought refugees, said Zakaria, because on March 11 — a few days before the Syrian uprising would start in Dara’a — Assad visited Hasakah, a very rare event. “So I posted on my Facebook page, ‘Let him see how people are living,’ ” recalled Zakaria. “My friends said I should delete it right away, because it was dangerous. I wouldn’t. They didn’t care how people lived.”
Abu Khalil, 48, is one of those who didn’t just protest. A former cotton farmer who had to become a smuggler to make ends meet for his 16 children after the drought wiped out their farm, he is now the Free Syrian Army commander in the Tel Abyad area. We met at a crushed Syrian Army checkpoint. After being introduced by our Syrian go-between, Abu Khalil, who was built like a tough little boxer, introduced me to his fighting unit. He did not introduce them by rank but by blood, pointing to each of the armed men around him and saying: “My nephew, my cousin, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my son, my cousin …”
Free Syrian Army units are often family affairs. In a country where the government for decades wanted no one to trust anyone else, it’s no surprise.
“We could accept the drought because it was from Allah,” said Abu Khalil, “but we could not accept that the government would do nothing.”
Before we parted, he pulled me aside to say that all that his men needed were anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons and they could finish Assad off. “Couldn’t Obama just let the Mafia send them to us?” he asked. “Don’t worry, we won’t use them against Israel.”
As part of our film we’ve been following a Syrian woman who is a political activist, Farah Nasif, a 27-year-old Damascus University graduate from Deir-az-Zour, whose family’s farm was also wiped out in the drought.
Nasif typifies the secular, connected, newly urbanized young people who spearheaded the democracy uprisings here and in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. They all have two things in common: they no longer fear their governments or their parents, and they want to live like citizens, with equal rights — not as sects with equal fears.
If this new generation had a motto, noted Aita, the Syrian economist, it would actually be the same one Syrians used in their 1925 war of independence from France: “Religion is for God, and the country is for everyone.”
But Nasif is torn right now. She wants Assad gone and all political prisoners released, but she knows that more war “will only destroy the rest of the country.” And her gut tells her that even once Assad is gone, there is no agreement on who or what should come next. So every option worries her — more war, a cease-fire, the present and the future. This is the agony of Syria today — and why the closer you get to it, the less certain you are how to fix it.
In the Middle East a present days STONE AGE is preferable to the ongoing finger-on-the-trigger performance (small arms) and immensely better then the introduction of Weapons of Mass Destruction – this despite what some say on the internet or mass media.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The Stone Age
A few weeks ago a military judge, Major Amir Dahan, acquitted four Palestinians of the charge of “attempted murder by throwing stones at vehicles”. He stated that “throwing stones can, under some circumstances, have the character of a lethal offence, carrying the near certainty of a danger to human life – but under other circumstances it might be no more than a prank without the potential of serious damage, by a young person who had barely crossed into the age of criminal responsibility”.This verdict angered Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party, who said in the beginning of last week: “This is no way to render judgment in Israel. It is about such things that we daily utter the prayer “O restore our judges, as of old”. We should not tolerate even one stone. We must not forgive even one stone . A stone kills”.Later this week, the head of the party joined Ariel. The well known Naftali Bennett, Minister of Economy, made a public call to change the rules of engagement so as to allow soldiers a much lighter trigger finger when facing Palestinians, since “travelling the roads of Judea and Samaria has turned into hell.”The press tycoon Shlomo Ben-Zvi, who a few months ago bought the failing “Ma’ariv” paper, also joined the fray. Already for several days the Ma’ariv headlines are mainly concerned with the stone age which had descended on the West Bank. Ma’ariv devotes pages upon pages to the cry of the settlers, stridently demanding that soldiers finally start shooting and killing stone throwers. The paper’s reporters gathered the shocking testimonies of soldiers asserting that their hands are tied behind their backs by the military orders. “The best guys, the best fighters, salt of the earth”, reporter Chen Kutas- Bar called them.
Also columnist Adi Arbel of the Institute for Zionist Strategies added his own account of a terrible event he had witnessed. Last week, at noon of the celebrated Jerusalem Day, several VIPs of the Israeli right wing camp went to the settler enclave at the heart of Silwan Village, to get there the Moskowitz Prize from the multi-millionaire Irving Moskowitz – the well known settler patron who for this occasion left for two days his flourishing gambling business in California. It happened that on their way to this event, the settlers and their friends went through the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Tur on Mount Olive, where a boy of about 18 threw a stone at their bus. And alas, laments the Zionist strategist, nothing happened to this boy , no policeman and no soldier thought of pulling a weapon and opening fire on him. Adi Arbel’s sad conclusion: even after 46 years, East Jerusalem is not under Israeli sovereignty. Well, with that I am not going to dispute.
And what about when settlers gather alongside the highway and throw stones at each passing Palestinian car? What happens when they aim a whole barrage of stones at a school bus full of Palestinian girl pupils and wound some of them? Should that, too, be treated as a case where even one stone could not be tolerated or forgiven, because “a stone kills”? Is that also the kind of situation where the rules of engagement should be changed and soldiers’ fingers become more loose on the trigger? Or perhaps this is exactly the case where stone-throwing is indeed no more than a prank without the potential of serious damage? Well, it’s no use to pose too many questions to the honorable minister Uri Ariel and to the honorable minister Naftali Bennett and to Ma’ariv publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi and his well-trained reporters.
By coincidence or not, it was just this week that a military court was hearing the case of a soldier who did not feel that his hands were tied and who had no particular problem to tighten his finger on the trigger. On 12 January this year – just in the midst of the Israeli elections campaign in which hardly anyone mentioned the Palestinians – this soldier (whose name is not published) was stationed in South Hebron Hills at a point where Palestinians are habitually trying to cross into Israel and find work. Many of them do succeed in their attempt. Unfortunately for the 21-year old Uday Darwish of the town of Dura, this particular soldier did open fire and he was hit and died a few hours later in the hospital, his funeral attended by thousands.
This particular soldier did not assert that army regulations had bound his hands. “This is the first time I encountered a shooting event, it never happened to me before. I never before got to such a situation of standing in front of 30 people I don’t know. Earlier we had been on the border of Egypt where a lot of Sudanese were passing we were always warned that in any group of Sudanese who come to Israel there is the hazard that one would be wielding a stabbing knife or wearing an explosive belt or something like that. ” (As a matter of fact, among tens of thousands of Sudanese who arrived in Israel until now there had never been any such case…)
The Prosecution wants to treat this case severely, and therefore impose a full nine months’ imprisonment and also demote the soldier one notch, from Staff Sergeant to an ordinary Sergeant. However, the soldier’s attorney, Yechiel Lamesh, asked the court to content itself with a term of three months, since “We should send a message to the fighters who risk their lives for us. We should understand and make it clear to them that to err is human and that an error, even a severe one, need not draw upon them the full severity of the law .” The defense attorney also asked that his client not be demoted, so as not to hurt the honor and dignity of this fighter of the Israel Defense Forces.
So, what the appropriate punishment for a soldier who shot and killed (not on purpose) a Palestinian worker who was going to sustain his family? Three months, or nine months, or something in between? Will he be demoted by one notch, or would the court take care not to hurt his honor and dignity? The Court is to convene again at the end of the month and make clear if they take up the prosecution’s case or that of the defense.
But what about one who did not shoot and did not kill anyone and who in the first place refused to join the army of occupation and wear its uniform and swear allegiance to it? One who altogether refused to get himself into a situation where he would stand armed in front of thirty people whom he has never seen before and have their lives and deaths at the mercy of his finger on the trigger? What is the proper punishment for such a crime of refusal? Half a year? A year? Two years? That is not yet clear.
Half a year has already passed since Natan Blanc arrived at the IDF Recruitment Center on his call-up date, November 19, 2012, and provided the recruitment officer with a detailed and reasoned letter setting out the reasons for his refusal to enlist. Half a year in which he is going in and out of Military Prison 6, in and out, in and out, in and out and in again.
The army chose not to bring him to a military court, whose proceedings are held in public and where the defendant can have a defense attorney and set out legal arguments and also express from the dock a conscientious and principled position. Instead, Natan Blanc is being repeatedly brought before a military officer who had been authorized to serve as a Judging Officer. A trial by a Judging Officer is a much simpler and easier affair – without the presence of any public, without lawyers and without witnesses and without any complicated legal procedures. Court is held in the normal office of the Judging Officer, with nobody present except the judge and the defendant, and usually lasts all of three to five minutes. In exceptional cases it can drag on up to ten minutes. Natan Blanc has already passed through very many such mini-trials, being sent to jail sometimes for two weeks, sometimes three weeks, sometimes a month. Each time he gets out of jail and is given another order to enlist and returns again to the office of the Judging Officer. So far he already accumulated 150 days behind bars, which is definitely not the end.
Yesterday, Friday, May 17, 2013, Natan Blanc celebrated his twentieth birthday behind bars at Military Prison 6 in Atlit. The activists of the Yesh Gvul movement came in the afternoon to celebrate with him on the mountain opposite the prison, whose summit was seen from the prison yard by several generations of refusers since the first Lebanon War in 1982. “Let’s celebrate! Come with your friends, bring refreshments and party accessories, especially those which can be seen or heard from very far: balloons, ribbons, signs, noise makers, whistles etc. ” was written in the invitation. On Tuesday there will be another demonstration, held in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, and the case of Blanc also gets increasing international attention.
Blanc told the military officers and judges that, once released from the army (and jail) he is going to do civilian service at the Magen David Adom medical rescue service. But when is that going to happen? The office of the IDF spokesman was not very forthcoming “A person liable for military service, whose application for exemption on grounds of conscience is denied, must perform a term of military service as set out in the Defense Service Act. One who refuses to do would be treated in accordance with the regular procedures.” Period.
It may very well that the soldier who killed Uday Darwish will be set free earlier.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FOLLOWING:
Ministers blast violence at ultra-Orthodox rally
Deputy finance minister calls protesters’ actions at demonstration against draft law ‘shameful’ and a crossing of ‘all the red lines’ – 10 policemen injured by these draft-refuseniks from the ranks of those claiming the Jewish religion. Are their stones any different?
May 17, 2013,
Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy on Friday slammed ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who took part in violence at a Jerusalem rally Thursday protesting the universal draft law, claiming that their behavior “crossed all the red lines.”
Levy posted on his Facebook page that the injuring of 10 policemen by the protesters was shameful and unacceptable. He further stressed that the government would continue to promote equality in the burden of army service, and would work against extremists who want to “preserve poverty and discrimination.”
The following is by by Daniel Pipes, May 11, 2013
that also includes “Arabs condemn attacks on Syria” on Sun News Network of Canada’s The Arena with Michael Coren, May 6. (To watch, click here.) www.danielpipes.org/12833/arabs-c… which in turn has a reader’s comment:
Submitted by Phil Greend (Canada), May 11, 2013 at 16:34
Now and only now the Muslims speak out on the subject of Syrian Muslims being killed.
There has been over 70,000 Muslims murdered, by other Muslims in Syria. Many of these people non-soldiers.
Where is the outrage from the Muslims over this evil?
So far as Bashar el Assad – he wanted to be an ophthalmologist, but his father conscripted him into the family business of running Syria after the death by accident of his brother. Clearly secular, Bashar could have made Syria into a modern western State, but was not allowed by his father’s military to do any good and gave in to them.
A Washington Post article today, “Assad forces gaining ground in Syria” by Liz Sly, argues that recent events suggest that the Assad regime is not just surviving but has gone on the offensive. Drawing on local analysts, she finds that in the civil war, “there is little doubt that the pendulum is now swinging in favor of Assad … bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.”
If this in fact be the case, then, Western governments should respond by helping the rebels to prevent Assad from crushing them.
This advice is consistent with my argument (in an article titled “Support Assad” published just a month ago, when Assad appeared to be going down) that the West should prevent either side in the civil war from emerging victorious by “helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong their conflict.”
This policy recommendation of “helping whichever side is losing” sounds odd, I admit, but it is strategic. (May 11, 2013)
This website argued for years that Turkey could have enhanced its world position by allowing enough slack to its own Kurds establishing itself as a bi-National State – Turkish-Kurdish and absorb the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Iran, Syria, as well. They did not – and now Erdogan tries to go for what he thinks is within his reach.
While Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) pursues the cease-fire plan with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the PKK is also involved in a subtle power struggle across Turkey’s borders. This struggle is being played out by the PKK’s efforts to check the influence of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, over leadership of the Kurds. By engaging in the Kurdistan Region’s messy pre-election politics and supporting the opposition Change Movement (Goran), the PKK is attempting to stifle a third mandate for Barzani, while stirring local criticism of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). These PKK interventions are unlikely to alter the status quo in the region — at least for the forthcoming elections — however; they are fueling political fragmentation and creating additional challenges to regional stability.
Indeed, rivalries between the PKK and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) are nothing new. During the Iraqi Kurdish civil war of the 1990s, the PKK and KDP engaged in armed conflict against each other, as well as the KDP against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
The Ocalan-Barzani competition re-emerged after the Syrian civil war broke out, and as different Syrian Kurdish groups backed by the PKK and its affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) vied for power with the KDP-supported Kurdish National Council. This rivalry continues with Barzani tied to Turkey and attempting to court Syrian Kurdish youth groups and independents away from PYD influence.
Still, Barzani and Ocalan reached a tacit agreement after Ocalan’s imprisonment in 1999, which allowed the PKK to relocate in the Kandil Mountains in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The KRG also tolerates the presence of thousands of PKK supporters in the Makhmour Camp, where they have been residing since 1994 as political refugees. Moreover, despite the rapprochement between Erbil and Ankara, Barzani has affirmed that “the period of Kurds killing Kurds is over” and that the KRG Peshmerga would not engage militarily against the PKK or any other Kurdish group. These efforts have led to a mutually peaceful coexistence between the KDP and PKK, despite the distinctly different ideologies and regional relationships each has developed, particularly with Ankara.
The last six months, however, have seen a shift in PKK tactics inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Whereas the PKK leader in Kandil, Murat Karaliyan, had previously indicated his willingness to work with Barzani in 2009, he now opposes electing him to a third term as president. The PKK is using its networks and social media to incite local opposition against Barzani and the Iraqi Kurdish parties. For instance, it is encouraging local populations in the Iraqi Kurdish-Iranian border town of Halabja to criticize the KRG and Barzani for lack of services. One of the PKK websites has inflammatory photos and remarks about Barzani’s leadership, as well as other KRG political party leaders.
This shift reflects a reaction to Barzani’s growing power — including his close ties to Erdogan — and his claims or ambitions to become a leader of all the Kurds, expressed in Kurdish as “president of Kurdistan,” which the PKK rejects.
More specifically, the PKK shift coincides with the illness of Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq and leader of the PUK, which has further weakened the PUK and limited any serious competition for the KDP and Barzani’s power. In fact, the rump of the PUK — known as the “Gang of Four” — may have called for a separate list in the planned September elections to reflect its differences and attempts to challenge the KDP. Yet the PUK leadership continues to support and depend upon Barzani as president, particularly as a financial patron.
This is why the PKK is now calling for a “Kurdistan supported by Goran.” Goran remains the only secular Kurdish nationalist party that seeks to remove Barzani from office while pressing for a parliamentary and not presidential system for the region. Goran also has indicated its support for the PKK and affirmed the PYD as the representative of the Kurds in Syria, posing another direct challenge to Barzani and the KDP. The PKK-Goran alliance also is based on shared concerns about Turkey’s regional power and the need to check Erdogan’s influence over Iraqi Kurds and in Syria.
It is unlikely that the PKK will weaken the deeply rooted patronage networks inside the Kurdistan Region that will assure Barzani power and KDP and PUK influence for years to come. Many people, particularly the youth, may support the PKK as true Kurdish nationalists and back Goran; however, they also have been co-opted by the increasingly generous handouts and comfortable lifestyles made available to them by the KRG in recent years. Many others are disinterested in politics altogether or unwilling to pay the consequences of being linked to the opposition.
Still, PKK engagement in Iraqi Kurdish politics matters because it reveals the growing complexity of the trans-border Kurdish problem and the PKK’s political agenda to change the status quo. This challenge will not only be about advancing Kurdish nationalist rights in different states, but clarifying who will represent Kurdish interests and what form these nationalist interests should take. Whatever the outcome, these struggles will likely create a wide opening for more deal-making between Kurdish groups and regional states, keeping the Kurdish nationalist movement fragmented from within and across borders.
Denise Natali holds the Minerva Chair at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), National Defense University where she specializes in Iraq, regional energy issues and the Kurdish problem. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the US government.
A parched Syria turned to war, scholar says, and Egypt may be next.
Prof. Arnon Sofer sets out the link between drought, Assad’s civil war, and the wider strains in the Middle East; Jordan and Gaza are also in deep trouble, he warns.
May 9, 2013, The Times of Israel
Some look at the upheaval in Syria through a religious lens. The Sunni and Shia factions, battling for supremacy in the Middle East, have locked horns in the heart of the Levant, where the Shia-affiliated Alawite sect has ruled a majority Sunni nation for decades.
Some see it through a social prism. As they did in Tunis with Muhammad Bouazizi — an honest man who couldn’t make an honest living in this corruption-ridden part of the world — the social protests that sparked the war in Syria started in the poor and disenfranchised parts of the country.
Others look at the eroding boundaries of state in Syria and other parts of the Middle East as a direct result of the sins of Western hubris and Colonialism.
Professor Arnon Sofer has no qualms with any of these claims and interpretations. But the upheaval in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he says, cannot be fully understood without also taking two environmental truths into account: soaring birthrates and dwindling water supply.
Over the past 60 years, the population in the Middle East has twice doubled itself, said Sofer, the head of the Chaikin geo-strategy group and a longtime lecturer at the IDF’s top defense college, where today he heads the National Defense College Research Center. “There is no example of this anywhere else on earth,” he said of the population increase. Couple that with Syria’s water scarcity, he said, “and as a geographer it was clear to me that a conflict would erupt.”
The Pentagon cautiously agrees with this thesis. In February the Department of Defense released a “climate-change adaptation roadmap.” While the effects of climate change alone do not cause conflict, the report states, “they may act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world.” Predominantly the paper is concerned with the effects of rising seas and melting arctic permafrost on US military installations. The Middle East is not mentioned by name.
But Sofer and Anton Berkovsky, who together compiled the research work of students at the National Defense College and released a geo-strategic paper on Syria earlier in the year, believe that water scarcity played a significant role in the onset of the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring, and that it may help re-shape the strategic bonds and interests of the region as regimes teeter and borders blur. Sofer also believes that a “Pax Climactica” is within reach if regional leaders would only, for a short while, forsake their natural inclinations to wake up in the morning and seek to do harm.
Syria is 85 percent desert or semi-arid country. But it has several significant waterways. The Euphrates runs in a south-easterly direction through the center of the country to Iraq. The Tigris runs southeast, tracing a short part along Syria’s border with Turkey before flowing into Iraq. And, aside from several lesser rivers that flow southwest through Lebanon to the Mediterranean, Syria has an estimated four to five billion cubic meters of water in its underground aquifers.
For these reasons the heart of the country was once an oasis. For 5,000 years, Damascus was famous for its agriculture and its dried fruit. Since 1950, however, the population has increased sevenfold in Syria, to 22 million, and Turkey, in an age of scarcity, has seized much of the water that once flowed south into Syria.
“They’ve been choking them,” Sofer said, noting that Turkey annually takes half of the available 30 billion cubic meters of water in the Euphrates. This limits Syria’s water supply and hinders its ability to generate hydroelectricity.
In 2007, after years of population growth and institutional economic stagnation, several dry years descended on Syria. Farmers began to leave their villages and head toward the capital. From 2007-2008, Sofer said, over 160 villages in Syria were abandoned and some 250,000 farmers – Sofer calls them “climate refugees” – relocated to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities.
The capital, like many of its peer cities in the Middle East, was unable to handle that influx of people. Residents dug 25,000 illegal wells in and around Damascus, pushing the water table ever lower and the salinity of the water ever higher.
This, along with over one million refugees from the Iraq war and, among other challenges, borders that contain a dizzying array of religions and ethnicities, set the stage for the civil war.
Tellingly, it broke out in the regions most parched — “in Daraa [in the south] and in Kamishli in the northeast,” Sofer said. “Those are two of the driest places in the country.”
Professor Eyal Zisser, one of Israel’s top scholars of Syria, agreed that the drought played a significant role in the onset of the war. “Without doubt it is part of the issue,” he said. Zisser did not believe that water was the central issue that inflamed Syria but rather “the match that set the field of thorns on fire.”
Since that fire began to rage in March 2011, the course of the battles has been partially dictated by a different sort of logic, not environmental in nature. “Assad is butchering his way west,” Sofer said. He believes the president will eventually have to retreat from the capital and therefore has focused his efforts on Homs and other cities and towns that lie between Damascus and the Alawite regions near the coast, cutting himself an escape route.
Sofer and Berkovsky envision several scenarios for Syria. Among them: Assad puts down the rebellion and remains in power; Assad abdicates and a Sunni majority seizes control; Assad abdicates and no central power is able to assert control. The most likely scenario, Sofer said, was that the Syrian dictator would eventually flee to Tehran. But he preferred to avoid that sort of micro-conjecture and to focus on the regional effects of population growth and water scarcity and the manner in which that ominous mix might shape the future of the region.
Writing in the New York Times from Yemen on Thursday, Thomas Friedman embraced a similar thesis, noting that the heart of the al-Qaeda activity in the region corresponded with the areas most stricken by drought. Sofer published a paper in July where he laid out the grim environmental reality of the region and argued that, as in Syria, the conflicts bedeviling the region were not about climate issues but were deeply influenced by them.
Egypt, Sofer wrote, faces severe repercussions from climate change. Even a slight rise in the level of the sea – just half a meter – would salinize the Nile Delta aquifers and force three million people out of the city of Alexandria. In the more distant future, as the North Sea melts, the Suez Canal could decline in importance. More immediately, and of greater significance to Israel, he wrote that Egypt, faced with a water shortage, would likely grow more militant over the coming years. But he felt the militancy would be directed south, toward South Sudan and Ethiopia and other nations competing for the waters of the Nile, and not north toward the Levant.
As proof that this pivot has already begun, Sofer pointed to Abu-Simbel, near the border with Sudan. There the state has converted a civilian airport into a military one. “The conclusion to be drawn from this is simple and unequivocal,” he wrote. “Egypt today represents a military threat to the southern nations of the Nile and not the Zionist state to the east.”
The Sinai Peninsula, already quite lawless, will only get worse, perhaps to the point of secession, he and Berkovsky wrote. Local Bedouin will have difficulty raising animals in the region and will turn, to an even greater degree, to smuggling material and people along a route established in the Bronze Age, through Sinai to Asia and Europe.
Syria, even if the war were swiftly resolved, is “on the cusp of catastrophe.” Jordan, too, is in dire need of water. And Gaza, like Syria, has been battered by unchecked drilling. The day after Israel left under the Oslo Accords, he said, the Palestinian Authority and other actors began digging 500 wells along the coastal aquifer even though Israel had warned them of the dangers. “Today there are around 4,000 of them and no more ground water. It’s over. There’s no fooling around with this stuff,” he said.
Only the two most stable states in the region – Israel and Turkey – have ample water.
Turkey is the sole Middle Eastern nation blessed with plentiful water sources. Ankara’s control of the Tigris and the Euphrates, among other rivers, means that Iraq and Syria, both downriver, are to a large extent dependent on Turkey for food, water and electricity. That strategic advantage, along with Turkey’s position as the bridge between the Middle East and Europe, “further serves its neo-Ottoman agenda,” Sofer said.
He envisioned an increased role for Turkey both in the Levant and, eventually, in central Asia and along the oil crossroads of the Persian Gulf, pitting it against Iran. Climate change, he conceded, has only a minor role in that future struggle for power but it is “an accelerant.”
Israel no longer suffers from drought. Desalination, conservation and sewage treatment have alleviated much of the natural scarcity. In February, the head of the Israel Water Authority, Alexander Kushnir, told the Times of Israel that the country’s water crisis has come to an end. Half of Israel’s two billion cubic meters of annual water use is generated artificially, he said, through desalination and sewage purification.
For Sofer, this self-sufficiency is an immense regional advantage. Israel could pump water east to Jenin in the West Bank and farther along to Jordan and north to Syria. International organizations could follow Israel’s example and fund regional desalination plants, which, he noted, cost less than a single day of modern full-scale war.
Instead, rather than an increase in cooperation, he feared, the region would likely witness ever more desperate competition. Sofer said his friends see him as a sort of Jeremiah. But the Middle East, he cautioned, is a region where “leaders wake up every morning and ask what can I do today to make matters worse.”
As reported by Matthew Russell Lee from the UN, it seems that there is a Russian-American agreement to let Assad of Syria continue to fight his opposition as it seems that the Qatar, Arab Sunni proposal,leads to an Al-Qaeda domination in a post-Syria configuration. This might be what some Arab States want to happen, but it is totally unacceptable to the US and other States. Syria is doomed one way or another, and the new reality is that the US will not waste more energy on playing along Arab lines.
UNITED NATIONS, May 9 — On the pending Syria UN General Assembly resolution drafted by Qatar, Russia’s Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin has now written to all member states, opposing the resolution on procedure, substance and on the May 7 announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Kerry.
Inner City Press has obtained a copy of Russia’s letter and puts it online, here.
Please see Lavrov’s letter and realize that Syria is being moved to the backburners – even though it is clear that people will continue to be killed or driven into exile. No solution in Syria is now also clear reason for not pushing a Palestinian resolution either – all what we expect now is lot of empty noise.
A recent visitor to Amman reports some senior Jordanians declaring openly that “there never was a place called Palestine. There is no such thing as Palestine, only Jordan.” Such sentiments, while still a minority view, mark a sea change in the long-standing Jordanian deference to the PLO on developments west of the Jordan River. According to one Palestinian, such views are being encouraged by some voices in Fatah, who fear Hamas’ baton more than Amman’s reluctant embrace, and who no doubt believe, as many veterans in Fatah do, that all it will take to turn Jordan into Palestine is a Palestinian decision to do so.
“Jordan is Palestine” is the mirror image of “Palestine is Jordan.” Jordanians identified with the latter are not contemplating a confederal agreement between respective Jordanian and and Palestinian states, but rather the restoration of Jordan’s uncontested place in Jerusalem and the West Bank on the eve of the June 1967 war.
The ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is not to be envied. History and geography have played a cruel trick on the leader of this unlikely country. He is squeezed between more powerful and often warring parties, presiding over a population of subjects thrown together by war and circumstance.To its credit, Jordan has succeeded more often than it has failed to construct a popular and workable, if fragile sense of national identity shared by disparate Palestinian and Transjordanian communities during the last nine decades. However, the self-immolation of Syria, Fatah’s failure to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the uncertain promise of the Arab Spring are posing new and unprecedented challenges for King Abdullah II, whose head lies ever uneasy on the royal throne.
The feasting on the corpse that was once Syria poses the most immediate challenge to Jordan, and it was at the heart of recent discussions during the King’s recent visit to Washington in the last week of April. But Jordan’s cascading problem managing the fallout from Syria complements the more essential challenge that has always been uppermost in the mind of Jordan’s political elite as well as its growing Islamic opposition. This challenge, of course, relates to the Palestinian dimension of Jordan’s national identity, and the King’s ability to manage this without his Hashemite or Transjordanian identity suffering as a consequence.
It is against Jordan’s basic nature to make precipitous moves in any direction, yet a dynamic trend favoring a “New Look” in Jordan’s Palestine policy — one that is viewed sympathetically in both Jerusalem and Washington — is hard to ignore.
For many years now Jordan has been confronting a most unwelcome strategic environment to its west, across the Jordan River. Fatah has failed to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the growing power of Hamas as a political factor has proceeded in tandem. Fatah is no friend of Jordan, where memories of Black September remain etched in the consciousness of the Jordanian elite. But Jordan long ago was forced by its own failures and by circumstances beyond its control to make its peace with the PLO, not only as the recognized representative of the Palestinian people — at least those residing east of the Jordan River —- but also as a strategic buffer against Israeli, American and Islamic/Arab claims against Amman. The PLO, notably after King Hussein’s 1988 disengagement from the West Bank, became Jordan’s insurance policy against the imposition of a solution at Jordan’s expense to Palestine’s problems in West Bank and Gaza Strip.
To Jordan’s dismay, it is being forced to realize that Fatah and the PLO it embodies cannot perform this task. This conclusion has been debated from time to time in recent years. The barometer of these discussions is Amman’s on-again, off-again dance with Khaled Meshaal and Hamas, most notably the 2009 thaw in relations engineered by Gen. Mohammad Dhahabi, who was at the time head of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department. If Fatah cannot be a Palestinian shield protecting Jordanian interests in a quiescent West Bank, it is argued, then perhaps Hamas should be given a go.
The other option, and the one today at the center of Jordan’s agenda, suggests a fundamental rethinking of Jordan’s exit from the West Bank that began with King Hussein’s failure in 1972 to reach an agreement on Israeli withdrawal with Moshe Dayan and that gained momentum with the Arab League decision to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974. Like Jordan’s unenthusiastic turn in Hamas’ direction, this option reflects Jordan’s despair at Fatah’s failure and is a hedge against Fatah’s capitulation to Israel in a deal that would endanger Jordan’s interest in preventing an influx of Palestinians eastward across the Jordan River.
One example of this trend is the “historic,” if precipitous, agreement between King Abdullah and PLO head Mahmoud Abbas in March confirming the Jordanian king’s stewardship of the holy places in Jerusalem.
“In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque,” the palace said in a statement. Abbas said that the agreement confirmed “Jordan’s role since the era of the late King Hussein” and that it consolidated agreements established decades ago.
Abbas’ signature marks the first formal Palestinian recognition of Jordan’s central role in Jerusalem and it complements the understanding detailed in Jordan’s treaty with Israel in 1994. The treaty notes that “Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”
Abbas’ interest in formalizing Jordan’s role is a function of Palestinian weakness and stands in ironic contrast to the nominal, and apparently symbolic boost for sovereignty won at the UN last November.
The understanding on Jerusalem reflects the PLO’s interest in Amman as a diplomatic safe harbor, protecting against both Hamas and Israel, and Amman’s readiness to reaffirm its interest in Jerusalem at the PLO’s (and Hamas’) expense.
These interests are not inconsistent with the evolving diplomatic strategy being pursued by US Secretary of State John Kerry. For more than a year, Amman has been a key way station of Washington’s diplomacy, much to the dismay of some in Egypt who preside over long-stalled reconciliation efforts. But unlike President Mohammad Morsi, King Abdullah is interested in being identified with any American effort. Even if opposed to the ideas Kerry is now circulating, Jordan has rarely viewed itself as in a position to reject US efforts.
“Palestine is Jordan” has long been the rallying cry of Israel’s right wing. It is now finding an uncertain echo in Jordan.
“We are extremely encouraged by the results of the Secretary’s meetings in Moscow with the President and with the Foreign Minister and salute your achievements in that regard by identifying a path forward,” Judeh said at a meeting with Kerry at the US ambassador’s residence in Rome Thursday.
Jordan’s position, Judeh said, is that there “has to be a transitional period that results in a political solution that includes all the segments of Syrian society, no exclusion whatsoever…preserves Syria’s territorial integrity and unity, and…guarantees… pluralism and opportunity for everybody.”
Judeh said he was heading to Moscow Thursday for further discussions. On Tuesday, Judeh issued a joint call with Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi for both sides in Syria’s civil war to enter talks on a transition government.
Kerry, on the final leg of a trip to Moscow and Rome, said Thursday that he had sent US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford on to Istanbul to meet with the Syrian opposition and begin work to persuade them to come to the peace conference. They have expressed misgivings because it would get underway before any agreement on the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although US officials insist US policy hasn’t changed and that they do not see any possibility where Assad could remain the leader of Syria.
“The specific work of this next conference will be to bring representatives of the government and the opposition together to determine how we can fully implement the means of the [Geneva] communique, understanding that the communique’s language specifically says that the Government of Syria and the opposition have to put together, by mutual consent, the parties that will then become the transitional government itself,” Kerry said at a meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday.
Washington and Moscow actually have common ground on Syria, except for the issue of the sequencing of the transition, Russian foreign affairs analyst Fyodor Lukyanov wrote for Al-Monitor Thursday.
“We can say that Russia and the US differ today on only one issue: the sequence of actions,” Lukyanov wrote. “First Assad leaves, then the process of establishing a new political regime in Syria begins, or the other way around. Moscow supports the second version, and Washington the first. As strange as it seems, they are in agreement on everything else: After Assad, there is a risk that Syria will become ungovernable, and the goal of outside forces… is to prevent power from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.”
The April 29 meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and an Arab League ministerial delegation of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) follow-up committee carried a double message.
The first was the United States’ willingness to seriously explore the possibility of resuming negotiations with the aim of ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after visits to the region by President Barack Obama and the secretary of state.
Skeptics worry that a division of labor decided by the US president, whereby he focuses on Asia while leaving the Arab-Israeli conflict to his secretary of state, is not very promising, despite the commitment and personality of the latter.
The second message is that Arabs have been waiting for a willingness to dust off the API, as I have previously argued here, and put it on their agenda with the United States. They are showing a readiness to invest in the Palestinian issue at this critical moment in Syria. The meeting should be the beginning of a process that would also involve intensive US-Israeli contacts and other concerned parties in serious negotiations. Such negotiations should be conducted on a basis different from those that have failed to produce results for two decades.
Yet the Arab willingness to accept the principle of territorial swaps — limited as well as symmetrical in terms of area and quality — was seen by others in the United States and Israel conversely: something to precede the negotiations, or to be addressed separately from the basic issue, which is Israel’s acceptance of the June 1967 borders in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Indeed, this resolution should be the basis for a settlement of the conflict and of a resolution of the occupation. The Palestinians have indicated many times their acceptance of minor adjustments to the borders of 1967 — adjustments that will be considered only in the context of negotiations for the two-state solution, not before.
Israel must formally accept the 1967 borders instead of engaging continuously in diplomatic acrobatics over the version of the Resolution 242 in which there is an omission of the word “the” before “territories.” Israel’s aim is to suggest that it does not have to withdraw from all the occupied territories and to legitimize its occupation of the territories it wants to annex. Yet the preamble of the resolution clearly states the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition by means of war, thus invalidating the Israeli argument. Minor, symmetrical adjustments are an integrated part and facilitator of that deal, well defined according to Resolution 242. This does not allow for an unknown offer to be made by Israel.
It is equally important that Israel cease all settlement activity, which Obama mildly criticized during his visit as detrimental to the process. Indeed, they represent a real danger to a peaceful resolution because they systematically destroy any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
Also, suggesting Arab normalization with Israel as an encouraging gesture toward Israel, a free gift, further complicates matters. The focus must be on the United States and other third parties committed to peace in the Middle East and aware of the dangers of inaction to spell out the guidelines for reaching peace.
These guidelines are found in relevant UN resolutions and earlier agreements. These third parties should stand firmly by these guidelines. This is how the United States, a third party, could make the serious resumption of negotiations on the basis of a clear timetable and not mere discussion. The aim is to reach a comprehensive peace that includes normalization, as is clearly stated in the API, without amendment, despite what some have insinuated.
It is worth noting that amending the API necessitates a resolution by an Arab Summit, a matter that is neither on the collective Arab agenda nor on the agenda of the delegation. It is needless to revive once more, under different names, interim solutions that will take us nowhere but to further crisis and result in more conflicts.
Ambassador Nassif Hitti is a senior Arab League official and the former head of the Arab League Mission in Paris. He is a former representative to UNESCO and a member of the Al-Monitor board of directors. The views he presents here are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.
China-Israel Technology development common interest – can it answer the Palestinian’s search for a new interlocutor for a new set of negotiations? The Chinese Ambassador says – Israel is small in size but large in innovation.
Mahmoud Abbas was here in Vienna and visited some other European Heads of State – then he took the long flight to China. All of this is to explain his position and look for new interlocutors. Abbas does not need a door opener like Arafat did and The Austria of Messrs. Fisher, Fayman and Spindelegger, is not the Austria of “Old Chancellor” Kreisky. On the other hand China is something of a new a power in regard to West Asia – it has no previous involvement in the Middle East – except as customers for oil. Something that was facilitated to them by the US wars in Iraq.
Oh well – here are Abbas and Netanyahu in China!
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up the first day of a five-day visit to China by meeting with dozens of Israeli businesspeople who represent companies that operate in Shanghai. The Israeli company representatives expressed great appreciation for the Prime Minister’s efforts to increase trade with China and noted the great importance of government support to doing business in China.
“We must make the national effort to enter Chinese markets and to create partnerships. In addition to your private initiatives, we need to create a government track with the Chinese,” Netanyahu told the Israeli reps.
Following the meeting Netanyahu met with Israeli and Chinese businesspeople and stressed the importance of strengthening the two countries’ economic relationship.
“The future belongs to those who lead in innovation and technology,” he said, adding that Israel manufactures “more intellectual property than any other country in the world in relation to its size. If we create a partnership between Israel’s inventive capability and China’s manufacturing capability, we will have a winning combination.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also in China on an official visit. Xinhua quoted him as saying: “It is very good that Netanyahu will visit China too because it is a good opportunity that the Chinese listen to both of us.”
Netanyahu will fly to Beijing later in the week. He is expected to sign a number of trade deals and discuss the Iranian nuclear issue before departing Friday.
Al Monitor gives us the main News from the Near East: To solve Syria – Iran, Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey will have to talk about a political solution. If this is not possible there will be no other easy way.
The Middle East is back on the cooking stove slow burner in Washington, and Qatar announced that the Arab proposal of 2002 was not written in stone and it seems clear that as long as the Arabs did not solve the Syrian problem they are in no position to solve the Palestinian problem.
THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL May 3, 2013:
UPDATED: Jeremi Suri of Texas has an answer to Robert Parry – “Bomb North Korea before It’s Too Late” this may avoid having to bomb Iran later. // US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Beijing and Seoul this week-end write Washington and Tokyo.
Op-Ed Contributor of the New York Times
Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late.
By JEREMI SURI,
Had Turkey made its internal peace wilth their Kurds, and moved on to incorporate the Iraqi Kurds, then the Syrian Kurds, then the Iranian Kurds – that would have been a National policy of a bi-National State that would have helped them also in their relations with the EU. But that is a future lost and now we see a revival of old oil policy instead.
Turkey, Iraq, and Oil
by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Though the pace of growth of the Turkish economy has slowed significantly, one of Ankara’s priorities over the coming years is to meet the country’s growing energy demands. The clearest solution is to diversify suppliers of oil and gas, with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) area being one potential source for such fuels.
Had you asked me a few months ago about the Turkish policy on acquiring energy resources from the KRG via an independent pipeline project and against the will of the Iraqi central government, I would have said that Ankara was still ambiguous on the matter, but now it seems clear that the Turkish government under Prime Minister Erdo?an intends to move forward with such plans.
The first sign of an advance in the framework of an informal commercial deal between the KRG and Ankara on this issue was a report by Ben Van Heuvelen for the Iraq Oil Report. Relying on the testimony of “multiple senior Turkish officials,” Heuvelen reports that the terms would include “stakes in at least half a dozen exploration for the direct pipeline export of oil and gas from the KRG.”
Multiple other sources can be used to confirm Heuvelen’s report. Following the visit of KRG premier Nechirvan Barzani in Ankara to meet with Erdo?an on March 26 where the two leaders apparently agreed to begin implementing the energy cooperation plan, the Turkish opposition party CHP attempted to launch a no-confidence motion in parliament against Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu on account of the energy deal with the KRG. The no-confidence motion failed.
CHP member Osman Korutürk claimed that a pipeline agreement in particular contradicted Davuto?lu’s declared principle of “zero problems” with neighboring countries, noting the objections of Baghdad and Washington to the development of energy ties between the KRG and Turkey without the Iraqi government’s consent.
The Turkish premier’s response to this initiative by the CHP, which is similarly opposed to Ankara’s firm anti-Assad stance vis-à-vis Syria, was to indicate that the issue should be taken up with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who proceeded in a speech to acknowledge the idea of maintaining Iraq’s unity as one of the top priorities of Turkish foreign policy, while arguing that the KRG had a constitutional right to develop energy ties with Ankara and is entitled to 17% of Iraq’s budget as per a 2006 agreement between Arbil and Baghdad.
In a subsequent interview with CNN Turk, Erdo?an invoked many of the same points as Yildiz in arguing that Turkey had the right to make energy agreements with the KRG, adding that under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, there is no real unity in Iraq anyway.
The point about the KRG’s budget share of 17% — invoked by Erdo?an and Yildiz — is key to Turkey’s official justification for moving forward with developing energy ties with the KRG unilaterally while also claiming to uphold Iraq’s unity. Ankara’s reasoning appears to be as follows: through developing energy ties, KRG will boost its oil production and therefore in terms of Iraq’s overall revenues, the KRG will be contributing 17% and thus match its share of the budget.
At present, the budget share to which the KRG is entitled is well above the autonomous region’s oil output as a proportion of Iraq’s revenues, the overwhelming majority of which comes from the oil industry. Baghdad’s complaint — as reflected in the words of Abdullah al-Amir (the chief advisor to Iraq’s deputy minister for energy affairs) — is that allegedly, only a third of KRG oil revenues reach the central government.
This complaint is not necessarily divorced from reality. In truth, the Turkish government’s official justification for implementing an energy agreement with the KRG while claiming to uphold Iraq’s unity is specious.
Notice that in the interview with CNN Turk (as I have pointed out above, but was omitted in the English reports), Erdo?an said that there is no real unity in Iraq anyway. At the same time, it should be emphasized that Ankara still does not support actual Kurdish independence.
Rather, the goal is to make the KRG a virtual client state of Turkey while ensuring that the autonomous region at least remains nominally part of Iraq. As Ben Van Heuvelen pointed out to me, this goal is “almost explicit policy” on the part of Ankara.
In turn, Zaab Sethna draws an analogy with the Turkish-occupied territory of northern Cyprus, in relation to which Turkish officials are now pressing Israel not to develop natural gas deals with the Cypriot government without incorporating Ankara into the negotiations. Aware of Baghdad’s disapproval of dealing with the KRG unilaterally, the Turkish government appears to be trying to pursue a rapprochement with the Iraqi government anyway: perhaps to induce it to accept the Turkey-KRG agreement. The rapprochement initiative began with a meeting between Davuto?lu and Iraq’s Vice-President Khudayr al-Khozaie at the Arab League Summit in Doha at the end of last month, in which a desire to restart friendly bilateral ties was expressed — something that Khozaie acknowledged on his return to Baghdad.
Building on these hints of rapprochement, Iraq has now put forward an offer to build an oil pipeline from Basra to Ceyhan in southern Turkey, in which Yildiz has expressed an interest. Even so, if Baghdad is hoping that this counter-offer will dissuade Ankara from proceeding to forge energy ties with the KRG, then the central government is quite mistaken.
It seems most likely that Turkey, like Exxon Mobil with its oil contracts in Iraq, will try to have it both ways by continuing to express an interest in a Basra-Ceyhan pipeline project as well, but could also drop the proposal entirely in favor of continuing to develop the energy deal with the KRG. Further, it is improbable that a compromise will be reached on the issue: a whole series of temporary agreements have arisen in the past on oil disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi central government, but the foundations of the quarrel have never been truly tackled. There is no doubt that the dispute over the budget for this year pushed the KRG to move forward with Ankara in cementing the energy deal.
At present, there is little the Iraqi government can do to stop Ankara beyond saber-rattling rhetoric. A violent confrontation is out of the question, and appealing to Washington to pressure Turkey to reconsider has been unsuccessful.
This failure of persuasion demonstrates the very limited U.S. leverage in the dispute, and while Turkish officials have expressed hope that Washington will eventually take Ankara’s side, they are obviously not pleased that the Americans sided with Baghdad.
From this point follows another conclusion: namely, it is all the more likely that Turkey will continue to resist any future U.S. or wider Western pressure to drop energy and economic ties with Iran amid the sanctions.
Ankara may be diversifying its energy sources, but that does not translate to dropping oil imports from Iran or ending the trade in gold for natural gas. An independent oil and gas pipeline project with the KRG will take years to become fully operational, and there is no reason to assume it is mutually exclusive from continuing energy ties with Iran, just as it is wrong to presume that the KRG will end oil smuggling to Iran just because of an energy agreement with Turkey.
Whatever disagreements Iran and Turkey have about Syria, it is important to note the cases of Iraq-Jordan and Iran/Iraq-Egypt economic ties. Strategic regional outlook is not the same as strengthening economic relations, and so one must avoid interpreting Turkey’s cultivation of energy ties with the KRG as a move away from Iran by either party.
The Saudis – they have Oil and a Subhuman Regime. A Saudi Islamic Judge just ordered a man surgically paralyzed according to Islamic Law (literally an eye-for-an-eye) and they were allowed to buy the Motiva Refinery of Texas – biggest in the United States. Shell Oil seems to be their partner in business and Shell Oil is now dancing to their tune. The US Department of State has just acknowledged that there might be a problem indeed.
Reports of Saudi Paralysis Sentence (Taken Question)
Office of the Spokesperson
April 5, 2013
Question: What is the U.S. response to reports that a Saudi judge gave a court order for a prisoner to be surgically paralyzed?
Answer: If these reports are true, they would be incredibly disturbing. We expect the Saudi Government to respect international human rights norms. We regularly make this point as part of our bilateral dialogue.
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
The Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, the largest in the United States, ensures a bigger market for Saudi crude and a stronger global voice for the kingdom.
This can now be seen in context!
‘Shell to dump energy firm over its ties to Israel’
Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has a 30-percent interest in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field
April 5, 2013, 3:28 pm 2
THE HAGUE (JTA) – Royal Dutch Shell declined to comment on reports that it will divest its stake in an Australian energy firm because of that firm’s investment in Israel’s gas fields.
According to the RTL Dutch television network, a spokesperson for Shell said on Wednesday that he had no comment on a report by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia which said Shell would likely dump its 23.1-percent stake in Australia’s Woodside Petroleum.
The report said Shell planned the move to avoid the risk of boycott by Arab countries following Woodside’s agreement to purchase a 30-percent interest in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field. RTL reported that Shell’s stake in Woodside is worth more then $7 billion.
Last year, Shell said that involvement with Woodside was “incompatible” with Shell’s “long-term plans.”
Arabs keep surprising us. Now it seems there is an intent in picking a fight with Turkey and create friction between Turkey and Jordan because of pipelines to take the oil of Iraq to the World Market. The following we picked up April 4, 2013 on the MENAFN in Arabic, but it was not on the English language version.
He and Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Karim and coffee yesterday that the next few days will witness the signing of the Jordanian-Iraqi transport …
Baghdad warns of Kurdistan oil pipeline to Turkey
The UK and the US Welcome the decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly meeting on the Arms Trade Treaty – 2 April 2013. With 22 countries abstaining – including China, India and Indonesia, it is quite untrue to say that it was accepted by consensus. Thanks to Matthew R. Lee for pointing this out – it takes good reporting to get facts about the UN. And What Probability For A US Senate Ratification?
Statement by UK Ambassador Joanne Adamson, Head of Delegation, to the United Nations General Assembly meeting on the Arms Trade Treaty – 2 April 2013
Thank you, Mr President.
Last Thursday, we were disappointed that success was deferred. Today, we have taken a decision that will save lives. It was the right decision, and we are proud of it.
Today, I have seen statements from my Prime Minister, my Foreign Secretary, my Deputy Prime Minister, and I have been in touch with our Foreign Office Minister, Mr Alistair Burt, who has been watching these negotiations with baited breath for the last two weeks.
This is a great success for the United Nations today and we in the UK are extremely proud.
Our action today is the product of ten years of campaigning and seven years of negotiation. But now, we must look ahead, to the future generations that will have a better chance to live safe and peaceful lives if this Treaty fulfills its promise.
It is up to us to make this happen. Today, we have shown what the United Nations can achieve. We have a strong text. We made it together. But it is the global implementation of this text that will make a real difference. The United Kingdom stands ready to play its part. We will work with others to ensure this Treaty matters.
So what we have achieved today is a significant milestone on our journey to a better world. But it is just one part of the process. We cannot rest now. Today is the end of the beginning. Tomorrow we begin the practical work of changing lives and improving the future.
As we move forward we will keep together that team – the team of diplomats, of people working in civil society, of people from our industry, of our politicians, of public opinion. I pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in this long journey and my message to the conference today is let’s move forward together.
Don’t look back in anger.
Let’s take the next step.
And the US joins its voice for the regulation of passing on arms to other countries:
Mr. President, the United States is proud to have been able to co-sponsor and vote in favor of adopting the Arms Trade Treaty. The treaty is strong, balanced, effective, and implementable, and we believe it can command wide support. We join others in congratulating Ambassador Peter Woolcott for his tireless efforts in guiding the negotiation.
The treaty is the product of a long, intensive negotiation, and I know that no nation, including my own, got everything it may have sought in the final text. The result, however, is an instrument that succeeds in raising the bar on common standards for regulating international trade in conventional arms while helping to ensure that legitimate trade in such arms will not be unduly hindered.
The negotiations remained true to the original mandate for them from UN General Assembly Resolution 64/48, which called for negotiating a treaty with the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms and for the negotiations to be conducted in an open and transparent manner, on the basis of consensus. The consensus rule remains important
Mr. President, as the United States has urged from the outset, this Treaty sets a floor – not a ceiling – for responsible national policies and practices for the regulation of international trade in conventional arms. We look forward to all countries having effective national control systems and procedures to manage international conventional arms transfers, as the United States does already.
We believe that our negotiations have resulted in a treaty that provides a clear standard, in Article 6, for when a transfer of conventional arms is absolutely prohibited. This article both reflects existing international law and, in paragraph three, would extend it by establishing a specific prohibition on the transfer of conventional arms when a state party knows that the transfer will be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, or the enumerated war and other crimes. Article 7 requires a state party to conduct a national assessment of the risk that a proposed export could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law, as well as acts of terrorism or transnational organized crime. Taken together, these articles provide a robust and complementary framework that will promote responsible transfer of decisions by states parties.
Thank you, Mr. President.
At UN, ATT Passes With 22 Abstentions, Woolcott Tells ICP of Speakers List
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 2 — When the Arms Trade Treaty was blocked on March 28 under the rules of consensus, the headlines read that only three countries were against it: Syria, North Korea and Iran.
But even then, in speeches like Sudan’s and Belarus’, one could hear abstentions coming.
And Tuesday in the UN General Assembly there were 23 abstentions, including the two most populous countries on Earth, China and India, and the most populous predominantly Muslim country, Indonesia.
Afterward, Inner City Press asked ATT president Peter Woolcott, after thanking him on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, about criticism of his allowing, before a promised ruling, Mexico and others to make an argument against the UN meaning of consensus.
He replied that there was speakers list that he followed. He said he personally does not favor negotiating under the rule of consensus. Other might say: it showed.
Inner City Press asked Mexico’s Luis Alfonso de Alba, who gave a thoughtful answer about “no vetoes,” that may resonate in the UN Budget Committee.
It was announced that Angola did not abstain, but voted Yes (hence, 22 abstentions, still quite populous.)
In speeches before Tuesday’s vote, as Syria’s Bashar Ja’afari spoke, US Ambassador Susan Rice was walking out. After that, a full hour into the speeches, Qatar’s delegation rolled in. They ended up abstaining. Qatar supports rebels in Syria.
Sudan on the other hand said it was abstaining, citing the failure to address the arming of “mutinous” groups, like the SPLM-North and rebels in Darfur.
Russia, which by a point of order Thursday night put an end to the Mexico-launched attempt to redefine consensus, on Tuesday morning zeroed in on what knowledge of genocide might mean, in Article 6.3. Its Ambassador Churkin said Russia would not have broken consensus on March 28, but would now abstain, as did China. It’s hard to call this consensus.
U.N. Treaty Is First Aimed at Regulating Global Arms Sales.
Published by The New York Times on-line April 2, 2013 – 107 Comments
Readers’ Comments: “There are too many in Congress who owe allegiance to the NRA and the armaments industry and not to the best interests of the U.S.” RHSchumann, Bonn
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a pioneering treaty aimed at regulating the enormous global trade in conventional weapons, for the first time linking sales to the human rights records of the buyers.
Although implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism, proponents say the treaty would for the first time force sellers to consider how their customers will use the weapons and to make that information public.
The goal is to curb the sale of weapons that kill tens of thousands of people every year — by, for example, making it harder for Russia to argue that its arms deals with Syria are legal under international law.
The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, reflects growing international sentiment that the multibillion-dollar weapons trade needs to be held to a moral standard.
The hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by its provisions.
The treaty calls for sales to be evaluated on whether the weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children.
“Finally we have seen the governments of the world come together and say ‘Enough!’ ” said Anna MacDonald, the head of arms control for Oxfam International, one of the many rights groups that pushed for the treaty. “It is time to stop the poorly regulated arms trade. It is time to bring the arms trade under control.”
She pointed to the Syrian civil war, where 70,000 people have been killed, as a hypothetical example, noting that Russia argues that sales are permitted because there is no arms embargo.
“This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syrias,” Ms. MacDonald said. “It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict.”
Members of the General Assembly voted 154 to 3 to approve the Arms Trade Treaty, with 23 abstentions — many from nations with dubious recent human rights records like Bahrain, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
The vote came after more than two decades of organizing. Humanitarian groups started lobbying after the 1991 Persian Gulf war to curb the trade in conventional weapons, having realized that Iraq had more weapons than France, diplomats said.
The treaty establishes an international forum of states that will review published reports of arms sales and publicly name violators. Even if the treaty will take time to become international law, its standards will be used immediately as political and moral guidelines, proponents said.
“It will help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement after the United States, the biggest arms exporter, voted with the majority for approval.
But the abstaining countries included China and Russia, which also are leading sellers, raising concerns about how many countries will ultimately ratify the treaty. It is scheduled to go into effect after 50 nations have ratified it. Given the overwhelming vote, diplomats anticipated that it could go into effect in two to three years, relative quickly for an international treaty.
Proponents said that if enough countries ratify the treaty, it will effectively become the international norm. If major sellers like the United States and Russia choose to sit on the sidelines while the rest of the world negotiates what weapons can be traded globally, they will still be affected by the outcome, activists said.
The treaty’s ratification prospects in the Senate appear bleak, at least in the short term, in part because of opposition by the gun lobby. More than 50 senators signaled months ago that they would oppose the treaty — more than enough to defeat it, since 67 senators must ratify it.
Among the opponents is Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican. In a statement last month, he said that the treaty contained “unnecessarily harsh treatment of civilian-owned small arms” and violated the right to self-defense and United States sovereignty.
In a bow to American concerns, the preamble states that it is focused on international sales, not traditional domestic use, but the National Rifle Association has vowed to fight ratification anyway.
The General Assembly vote came after efforts to achieve a consensus on the treaty among all 193 member states of the United Nations failed last week, with Iran, North Korea and Syria blocking it. The three, often ostracized, voted against the treaty again on Tuesday.
Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian envoy to the United Nations, said Russian misgivings about what he called ambiguities in the treaty, including how terms like genocide would be defined, had pushed his government to abstain. But neither Russia nor China rejected it outright.
“Having the abstentions from two major arms exporters lessens the moral weight of the treaty,” said Nic Marsh, a proponent with the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. “By abstaining they have left their options open.”
Numerous states, including Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua, said they had abstained because the human rights criteria were ill defined and could be abused to create political pressure. Many who abstained said the treaty should have banned sales to all armed groups, but supporters said the guidelines did that effectively while leaving open sales to liberation movements facing abusive governments.
Supporters also said that over the long run the guidelines should work to make the criteria more standardized, rather than arbitrary, as countries agree on norms of sale in a trade estimated at $70 billion annually.
The treaty covers tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons. Ammunition exports are subject to the same criteria as the other war matériel. Imports are not covered.
India, a major importer, abstained because of its concerns that its existing contracts might be blocked, despite compromise language to address that.
Support was particularly strong among African countries — even if the compromise text was weaker than some had anticipated — with most governments asserting that in the long run, the treaty would curb the arms sales that have fueled many conflicts.
Even some supporters conceded that the highly complicated negotiations forced compromises that left significant loopholes. The treaty focuses on sales, for example, and not on all the ways in which conventional arms are transferred, including as gifts, loans, leases and aid.
“This is a very good framework to build on,” said Peter Woolcott, the Australian diplomat who presided over the negotiations. “But it is only a framework.”
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York, and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.
UPDATED: THIS IS NOT A JOKE – Syria, North Korea and Iran are leading the UN with Russian backing. Can the UK wrestle the UN Secretary-General to take position on an INTERNATIONAL ARMS TREATY that is opposed by those three Ingenious States?
THE UPDATE DIRECTLY FROM THE UN CORRIDORS : On the Arms Trade Treaty – So Some Try to Re-Define Consensus.
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 28 — The Arms Trade Treaty talks were to have concluded this afternoon; chairman Peter Woolcott has scheduled a press stakeout at 6 pm.
But as delegates continued milling around in Conference Room 1, Inner City Press observed the UN Television stakeout being taken apart at 6:10 pm.
By 6:45 pm, Iran, North Korea and Syria had formally objected, blocking consensus.
Mexico and some others argued that the ATT could still be adopted — without a vote — since there is no definition of consensus.
But Syria cited a definition, from the World Health Organization in 1987. Russia echoed that. Iran went further, saying that those trying to change the rules should “leave the building.”
Iran had earlier spoken up with sample objections; sources told Inner City Press their main issue was the inclusion of a reference to UN Security Council Chapter 7 sanctions, which they are under.
North Korea, too, is under them. So is Sudan, but several sources told Inner City Press Sudan does not want to stand alone, or even, as a source put it “be seen as one of the rogues.”
But there are principles, and the proponents of the ATT if they wanted consensus might have paid more attention to them.
As delegates milled around on the first floor, Inner City Press nearly alone staked out the second floor protocol room NLB-2109. Iran’s Permanent Representative came out with his Syrian counter-part Bashar Ja’afari. Soon thereafter, the objections were made, then the attempts to re-define consensus. Only at the UN.
Privately a speaker said, we can’t just change the rules. Another said, the US pushed for the ATT to be under the rule of consensus, to be able to block it — then “pushed Iran to block it.”
Inner City Press asked the head of the US delegation about this; he did not disagree, including saying, it’s not a criticism. Alright then.
Update of 9:30 pm – We’d be told there would be a Woolcott stakeout, to get his side. But it’s canceled. To be fair we’ll make his argument: there was a list of speakers.
Update of 10:26 pm – after a long stand off resulting in the phrase, “there was no consensus and the draft decision was not adopted.” There’s laughter, cheering – and a cloud over the UN.
General Assembly could vote on arms treaty next week.
The United Nations was prevented today by Syria, North Korea and Iran from adopting a proposed international arms treaty.
But the U.K., on behalf of multiple countries, sent the draft treaty to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asking the General Assembly to vote quickly on it. “Most people in the world want regulation and those are the voices that need to be heard,” says Joanne Adamson, the chief U.K. delegate.
Even the United Nations Foundation (UNF) seems to have had enough of this UN. What will the US of President Obama say? Can the US oppose the Conventional Arms Control Treaty as previous US Administrations did?
UK Statement on the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty delivered by Ambassador Jo Adamson – 28 March 2013
A good strong treaty has been blocked by the DPRK, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Syria. But most people in most of the world want regulation and those other voices that need to be heard. So we have sent a text for decision by the United Nations General Assembly.
This treaty will be the first international, legally binding agreement on the transfer of small arms and light-weapons, and the seven UN categories of conventional arms.
It will have an explicit requirement for a national control system, with controls to apply to the broadest range of arms.
It will prohibit exports that will be used for genocide, crimes against humanity, or a broad range of war crimes.
It will have a mandatory requirement for arms exports – including ammunition, munitions, and military parts and components – to be assessed on the basis of criteria including peace and security, human rights, international humanitarian law, terrorism, which many had called for, and transnational organised crime.
It will require mandatory refusals for transfers that pose unacceptable risks.
It will have a requirement to take into account in export licensing decisions, the risks of serious acts of gender based violence, violence against women and children and corruption.
It will have a requirement for states to regulate arms brokering.
It will have mandatory record keeping and regular reporting on authorization.
It will have regulation, where feasible, on imports, transit and transhipment.
It will have strong provisions to prevent diversion of weapons to illicit trafficking or use. And those provisions on diversions will have been negotiated, and I use the word negotiated, in a process which you established for us, the states, to take our own responsibility and to produce by consensus within the United Nations, which we cherish go dearly, a consensus outcome. That new article which we saw in the course of this conference was negotiated following many requests from countries who said that the 26th of July text was not strong enough in this area. It was negotiated. It is in the treaty.
It contains provisions to help the treaty keep up to date with perhaps future, new types of weaponry, and to take our treaty, which we will have up to date and to make sure it is future-proofed. This will be a treaty on which we today can build. This is the sense of this room. This is why we are working right now to bring this treaty, which you gave us the opportunity to create, home. You gave us that opportunity. The overwhelming majority took that opportunity and negotiated this treaty.
I pay tribute to you. I cannot hold back my disappointment that we have been unable to take the opportunity to build on negotiations, which from my perspective, were rigorous, organised, transparent, and which involved Member States of the United Nations taking their responsibilities working on texts late into the night and producing, with your help, an excellent text.
This is success deferred. This is not failure. We will have the Arms Trade Treaty. We will go to UNGA soon. I pay huge tribute to you for your fairness, for your rigor, for demanding high standards of us. That is the kind of Arms Trade we want to have. It is the same as the way you have run this conference.
I thank you, Mr President.
UK Press Release: Foreign Secretary remains determined to secure Arms Trade Treaty
Foreign Secretary signals UK’s continued commitment to securing an Arms Trade Treaty following failure to reach consensus in the United Nations.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said:
“I am deeply disappointed that the negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty closed today without consensus. After 7 years of intensive work, the international community had never had a better chance to agree a global, legally binding Treaty that would make the world a safer place.
“The UK has played a leading role and spared no effort to secure a Treaty which would be both strong and globally applied, based on consensus.
“We have come very close. It is disappointing that three countries blocked the historic agreement that lay within our reach.
“UK Ministers and officials in London, New York and in overseas capitals worked intensively to achieve the strongest possible outcome. I would like to thank everyone involved, including our close partners in civil society and industry, who have worked so hard together towards our common goal, and whose disappointment we share.
“This Treaty is too important for us to let it end here. The overwhelming majority of the international community want this Treaty and we are determined to take it forward.
“We will now focus our efforts on securing the adoption of the Treaty at the UN General Assembly as soon as possible. We will encourage the widest possible support for it, so that it delivers its promise of greater security, protecting human rights, challenging poverty and helping to secure sustainable development across the globe.
“When adopted, this will be the first international, legally-binding Treaty setting controls on the transfers of weapons. It will prohibit transfers that would be used for genocide or war crimes. Arms exports will be refused if they pose unacceptable risks. Strong steps will be taken to prevent weapons being diverted into the illegal market. Authorisations of exports will be reported and arms brokering regulated. It will also protect the legitimate trade in arms and promote international collaboration.
“The UK will not rest until we have secured an effective global Arms Trade Treaty.”
From the United States: Statement by Secretary Kerry on the U.S. Support for the Arms Trade Treaty 0n 3-15-13
The United States looks forward to working with our international partners at the upcoming conference from March 18-28 to reach consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty that advances global security and respects national sovereignty and the legitimate arms trade. We supported and actively participated in negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty held at the United Nations in July 2012. Those negotiations made considerable progress, but ended before a treaty could be concluded. Accordingly, the United States supported a UN General Assembly resolution December 24, 2012 to convene the conference this month to build on those efforts.
The United States is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability. An effective treaty that recognizes that each nation must tailor and enforce its own national export and import control mechanisms can generate the participation of a broad majority of states, help stem the illicit flow of conventional arms across international borders, and have important humanitarian benefits.
The United States could only be party to an Arms Trade Treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely and does not impose any new requirements on the U.S. domestic trade in firearms or on U.S. exporters. We will not support any treaty that would be inconsistent with U.S. law and the rights of American citizens under our Constitution, including the Second Amendment.
While the international arms trade affects every country, over one hundred states today do not have a system for control of international conventional arms transfers. We support a treaty that will bring all countries closer to existing international best practices, which we already observe, while preserving national decisions to transfer conventional arms responsibly. The international conventional arms trade is, and will continue to be, a legitimate commercial activity. But responsible nations should have in place control systems that will help reduce the risk that a transfer of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes, including those involving terrorism, and serious human rights violations.
I wish the conference well and hope that we can reach consensus on a treaty that improves global security, advances our humanitarian goals, and enhances U.S. national security by encouraging all nations to establish meaningful systems and standards for regulating international arms transfers and ensuring respect for international law.
Statement of Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman
Arms Trade Treaty Conference
Morning Plenary Session
March 25, 2013
Thank you, Mr. President. For years now, the United States has sought to achieve an Arms Trade Treaty that is strong, meaningful, and implementable — a treaty on which the United States could join consensus, a treaty the U.S. government could sign, and ultimately recommend to our Senate for ratification. Thanks to you, Mr. President and your exceptional team, that goal is in sight and the U.S. will spare no effort to achieve it.
To give you examples of how hard we have worked with you and other delegations, let me mention Article 6, which was just mentioned by our friend from Norway. Last week, we endorsed a suggestion by Japan, which we saw as a sound basis for negotiation, and which led to a discussion among the U.S. and many others that has made real progress towards addressing an important issue. We will, of course, take this latest proposal by Norway into consideration. Article 6 and 7 together are the heart of the treaty, a barrier against the misuse of conventional arms.
We have worked toward a compromise on Article 5.2 but none has been found. In the end, we cannot accept language that is contrary to the plain meaning of the treaty.
My delegation came to this final UN conference prepared to work, as the General Assembly decided, on the basis of the July 26 text, a text that had its flaws but was the result of real, politically balanced compromise, a text that would both be meaningful and attract the widest possible consensus. At that time, 90 countries said they could accept that text. Since that time, your March 22 text is stronger, clearer, and more implementable. I would hope all those who could accept the July text could accept this stronger one.
Let me remind you that this is not an arms control treaty, not a disarmament treaty — it is a trade treaty regulating a legitimate activity. Allow me to comment on its two primary purposes. A minimum requirement for national action is to regulate, in a fashion that will curb abuses against humanity and common sense, what is, nonetheless, a very legitimate international activity: the transfer of conventional arms to enhance, rather than undermine, peace and security — this is the heart of the regulation provisions. This text contains strong language on these points that would bring the world closer to the standard of the United States and other major exporters. On the second major goal, combating diversion, we are prepared to work on meaningful language either in a separate article or in clauses throughout the text. Some diversion occurs between exporter and importer. More diversion occurs after receipt by the importer. To address all aspects of diversion, we are ready to work on meaningful language that expands international cooperation but recognize it must have language that respects domestic jurisdictions over domestic criminal activity.
Let’s be honest with each other; we are barely 48 hours away from a final text. It is much too late to try to reopen some of the hard-fought compromises that were achieved last July — or to push the treaty into something new. The U.S., like other delegations, has been constructive and leaned forward as much as we could, but trying to stretch that attitude into new topics at this point in time simply risks the rubber band snapping back and leaving us with a far less useful result than we already have seen. So I would urge my colleagues to keep their focus on the object we share: ensuring that we produce and agree on, at the end of the week, an instrument that will optimize — not maximize, but optimize — the prospects for completing the full process of making an effective Arms Trade Treaty a working and living instrument.
The Media finally catches up to it – Cyprus – Will Russia get now a piece as it did years ago in Syria? This might be “plan D” that lets the potentially gas rich mini-State float away from the EURO and eventually the EU. Could an Obama Foray help by reconciling Turkey and Cyprus now that Greece was weakened by its own crisis?
Russian PM lectures Barroso on Cyprus.
Medvedev: ‘The euro crisis has strengthened ideas that Europe is in decline.’
BRUSSELS - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev humbled European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in public remarks on Thursday (21 March) over the EU’s handling of Cyprus.
Speaking alongside Barroso at a conference in Moscow, he called the EU’s original Cypriot bailout idea “to put it mildly, surprising … absurd … preposterous.”
“The situation is unpredictable and inconsistent. It [the bailout model] has been reviewed several times. I browsed the Internet this morning and I saw another Plan B, or a Plan C or whatever,” he noted.
He upbraided EU institutions for failing to give Moscow due notice of its decision.
“The system of early warning did not work very well … that means we need to work on it,” he said.
He also quoted unnamed Russian “eurosceptics” as saying: “The euro crisis has strengthened ideas that Europe is in decline in the 21st century … that the European project has turned out to be too cumbersome.”
Earlier the same say, he told Russian newswire Interfax that he is thinking of reducing Russia’s holding of euro-denominated currency reserves.
In a sign of broader Russian upset, Leonid Grigoriev, an academic and a former Russian deputy finance minister, told a separate news conference that Russian money is no longer safe anywhere in the EU.
“The Cyprus situation has created new uncertainty in the banking sector. People have started thinking whether the same can happen elsewhere, in Spain, Portugal, Ireland?” he said.
The EU’s Plan A for Cyprus was to lend it €10 billion, but to impose a 7-to-10 percent levy on all Cypriot savers, including Russian expats, who alone stood to lose €2 billion.
It has now been scrapped.
It is unclear what new model might be found.
But the Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, also in Moscow on Thursday, said he is in talks to give Russia shares in Cypriot “banks, natural gas [reserves]” in return for Russian bailout money.
For his part, Barroso told Medvedev that the EU could not have warned Russia even if it wanted to.
“Regarding the conclusions of the last Eurogroup [euro finance ministers, who drew up Plan A], Russia was not informed because the governments of Europe were not informed – let’s be completely open and honest about that issue. There was not a pre-decision before the Eurogroup meeting. The Eurogroup meeting concluded, I think, in the very early hours of Saturday and the decision was the result of a compromise,” he said.
He added: “Don’t believe in this idea of the decline of Europe … The European Union is stronger than it is today fashionable to admit.”
Leaked documents on internal EU talks seen by the Reuters news agency give substance to Russia’s criticism, however.
The notes record remarks by finance officials from euro-using countries during a panicky conference call about Cyprus held on Wednesday.
According to Reuters, a French official said Cyprus’ decision not to take part in the phone-debate is “a big problem … We have never seen this.”
A German official said Cyprus might quit the euro and there is a need to “ring-fence” other countries from contagion.
A European Central Bank official said there is a “very difficult situation” because savers might pull money from the island if banks re-open next week.
Meanwhile, Thomas Wieser, an Austrian-origin EU official who chaired the phone-meeting, described the situation as “foggy.” He added: “The economy is going to tank in Cyprus no matter what.”
To the above we add that Turkey, its holding onto North Cyprus, and its interest in the gas fields that stretch from Cyprus to Israel and Lebanon, having first development seen by Israel, are part of the larger scope of the Cyprus potential move away from the EU. But, In effect, these other aspects might make the EU stiffen up in a bailing out effort conditioned only on reorganizing some of the Cypriot Banks – letting Russian oligarchs foot part of the bill – without selling to Russia port holdings in the Mediterranean. Seeing a Syria solution that drives out Russia from its port facilities there, may be part of the American interest in the region as well. In short – Cyprus is not Iceland – this because it is geographically located in a very complicated region of the Outer EU. Is it so that an Obama trip could help by forcing a Cyprus-Turkey reconciliation first?
We just found out that The New York Times is catching up:
Summing Up – The implementation of The Israel-Turkey Reconciliation Agreement and Financial help for the survival of Jordan are the Visible Results of the Obama Foray into the Middle East. Not mentioned so far are possible moves on Syria, Cyprus, or Egypt.
To the Europe and Eurasia and the Near East lists of the US Department of State
Secretary of State
March 23, 2013
The reconciliation between Israel and Turkey is a very important development that will help advance the cause of peace and stability in the region. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan deserve great credit for showing the leadership necessary to make this possible.
As I discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, this will help Israel meet the many challenges it faces in the region.
We look forward to an expeditious implementation of the agreement and the full normalization of relations so Israel and Turkey can work together to advance their common interests.
An ongoing review of President Obama’s Comet swiping the Middle East and what next. The Third UPDATE – Turkey, Israel, Jordan – are the trio destined to work with President Obama following his comet-like passing over the Middle East with helicopters and 5,000 troops. The Most Important Problem for The Larger Region Is Syria.
By JODI RUDOREN and MARK LANDLER – for The New York Times of March 23, 2013.
Israel’s apology for errors in a 2010 raid on a ship bound for Gaza thawed relations with Turkey and gave President Obama a solid achievement as he closed out his visit in Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.
By NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD
At President Obama’s urging, Israel and Turkey have chosen a wiser course and restored diplomatic relations.
THE TIMES OF ISRAEL SHOWS HOW DIFFICULT – BUT NECESSARY – THIS WAS FOR ISRAEL
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference at the Knesset on Monday (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday for his decision to apologize to his Turkish counterpart for the “operational errors” made by Israel during the 2010 raid that led to Turkish fatalities on the Turkish-registered, Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara.
“Israel’s apology for the soldiers activity against a terrorist organization is a serious mistake,” said Liberman, who served as Israel’s top diplomat during the height of the crisis with Turkey, and who is also Netanyahu’s No. 2 in their joint Knesset Likud-Beytenu faction.
“Anyone who watched the photos taken on the ship Mavi Marmara understands beyond any doubt that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense against the activists of the IHH organization, recognized in European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, as a terrorist organization,” stated Liberman.
Nine Turkish citizens were killed by IDF naval commandos who had come under attack as they sought to commandeer the vessel that was attempting to bypass Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The May 2010 incident led to the freezing of ties between the two former allies, a relationship said to be on the path to normalization following a phone call between the countries’ prime ministers on Friday.
The dramatic reconciliation was brokered by US President Barack Obama shortly before he left Israel on Friday. Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone and agreed to end three years of dire relations.
In the call, Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people “for any operational errors that could have led to loss of life” in the Mavi Marmara incident, “and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” his office later said in a statement. Erdogan reportedly said he accepted the Israeli apology and said his government would end legal prosecution of Israeli officers and officials involved in the incident.
Erdogan “expressed that it was saddening that relations, which are of vital strategic importance for peace and the stability of the region, have been soured in recent years,” the statement said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that before accepting the apology, Erdogan consulted with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Davutoglu added that all of Turkey’s fundamental demands had been met with Israel’s apology, Reuters reported.
“Such an apology harms the motivation of soldiers and their willingness to go out on missions in the future and bolsters the radical elements in the region,” Liberman said. As foreign minister until resigning to battle a breach of trust charge in December, Liberman was publicly opposed to any talk of an Israeli apology.
Erdogan has become an increasingly bitter critic of Israel in recent years, repeatedly denouncing its policies on the Palestinians, and expressing support for the Gaza-based terror organization Hamas.
On Wednesday, Erdogan clarified a statement he made in February in which he called Zionism a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism,” saying he was misunderstood and signaling that a reconciliation might be near.
Speaking to a Danish newspaper, Erdogan said that he knew his remarks caused “some debate” but that “no one should misunderstand what I said.” He said “everyone should know” that his comments were directed at “Israeli policies,” especially as regards to “Gaza and the settlements.”
Liberman, unmoved by the phone call and by Obama’s apparent pressure for a headling of ties, said that “Erdogan’s tirades against Israel at every opportunity, from the attack on the President [Peres] in 2009 at [a public panel at the World Economic Forum's] Davos conference, up to his words few weeks ago — that Zionism is racism and crime against humanity — and his refusal to apologize for this statement explicitly while simultaneously accepting an apology from Israel, harms the dignity and status of Israel in the region and in the world.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, welcomed the attempt at mending ties.
“Reconciliation is a very important step and correct at this time, especially with what is happening in Syria,” Livni said, adding that “Israel, Turkey and the United States have shared security interests.”
The defense establishment also welcomed news of the agreement, though military sources likened Israel’s apology to a half-sincere one given to an aunt when apologizing for not attending the Passover Seder.
IDF chief of General Staff Benny Gantz was reportedly fully briefed on Netanyahu’s plan to apologize to Erdogan. Channel 10 said Netanyahu had also informed his senior Cabinet ministers on his plan ahead of the phone call.
Labor Party Chairman Yachimovich said that the prime minister made the right choice by reconciling with Erdogan.
“Turkey is a regional power and relations with the country are very important to Israel,” Yachimovich said. “Even if the apology to the Turks was done with a heavy heart, it is good that it has been done.”
The Labor party leader went on to explain that “it is better to forgive and do what is wise and beneficial for the state,” rather than focus on Israel’s honor.
“We hope that reconciliation with the Turks after three years of disconnect is the first step towards a new political re-entrenchment that will strengthen our diplomatic and strategic position,” she said.
The reconciliation took place shortly before Obama completed his three-day visit to Israel, in a call from a trailer on the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport. Initially Obama spoke to Erdogan, reports said, and then he handed the phone to Netanyahu.
The move was planned and coordinated by US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of Obama’s visit, Channel 2 reported.
The US had indicated for some time that it saw an imperative for Israel and Turkey to heal the rift between them, especially given the regional challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear drive and the raging civil war in Syria.
“The timing was good for that conversation to take place,” Obama said later Friday in a speech in Jordan.
OBAMA IN JORDAN
While Jordan has remained a relatively stable country and ally of the U.S., Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook wrote Thursday that there are many more reasons why King Abdullah II is now is facing mounting pressures and tensions in the region and from within his Kingdom:
President Obama did not make a major speech in Jordan. His meeting with King Abdullah II was private and followed by a joint press conference.
The obligatory two States Solution for the Israeli/Palestinian issue was mentioned but it was obvious – the topic of interest was Syria and the fact that large numbers of refugees from Syria are crossing over to Jordan and Jordan cannot support them alone.
The President suggested a further $200 million US aid to Jordan.
WE SUGGEST THAT IN THE PRIVATE CONVERSATION THE SUGGESTION CAME UP THAT THE FUTURE WILL HOLD A NEW US POLITICAL EFFORT ON SYRIA WITH JORDAN AND TURKEY IN THIS LOOP.
Syrian refugees cross the border from Syria into Jordan, near Mafraq. Jordan provides free health and education services for more than 200,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees, according to officials. Photo by Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images.
Both countries’ leaders emphasized their strong alliance and commitment to security and peace in the region.
One of the highlights of their discussions was Syria and the growing refugee problem in neighboring Jordan. The Associated Press reported that the nation hosts 500,000 refugees from Syria or about 9 percent of Jordan’s total current population.
In the conference Friday, King Abdullah reported that his government anticipated the number of Syrians in Jordan could potentially double by the end of the year. “That would be like 30 million crossing over the border into the United States,” he said. He added that the Zaatari desert refugee camp is now the fifth largest city in Jordan.
The influx of refugees — Abdullah said the Jordanian government would not close its borders to future refugees — has created social, economic and security concerns in his kingdom. “[We] have opened our arms to many throughout our history, said Abdullah.” But if the $550 million in costs related to Syrians fleeing to Jordan also doubles along with the number of total refugees in Jordan, Abdullah conceded that it will have a tremendous effect on the economy.
In February, the Obama administration disbursed another $60 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels to provide basic needs for war-torn communities, including sanitation, medical care and food delivery, as well as to build up the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
At the press conference Friday, President Obama reiterated the importance to find a political solution and announced his intentions to work with Congress in order to provide an additional $200 million to Jordan to assist in rising costs regarding ever-increasing numbers of refugee.
Scott Wilson reports for the Washington Post, Saturday, March 23, 2013
He warned that Syria could become a beachhead for Islamist extremism, adding “that is why the United States has a stake” in the war’s outcome. Abdullah, too, warned that the increasing sectarian cast to the war threatens to pull the country apart.
Asked by a Jordanian journalist why “the leading superpower” does not intervene in Syria, Obama suggested that the unpredictable nature of the civil conflict has left him no policy option that would guarantee more good than harm, either through a direct military strike or by arming Syrian rebels.
“The sight of children and women being slaughtered that we’ve seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say, what more can we do?” Obama said. “And that’s a question that I’m asking as president every single day.”
But, he added, “ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression.”
His stop in Jordan was a show of support for Abdullah, who is facing growing calls for deeper political reforms from the same kind of mostly young population that has recently upended governments across the Middle East. He called Abdullah his “good friend” and Jordan “an invaluable ally.”
But before leaving Israel, Obama honored a pair of historic figures whose lives traced the arc of the Zionist movement — Theodor Herzl, its chief theoretician who didn’t live to see the Jewish state he envisioned, and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who died trying to secure the Jewish state through a fateful peace effort with the Palestinians.
Obama made his way on a clear spring morning to Mount Herzl, where, with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres by his side, he stepped toward the granite tomb, marked simply “Herzl” in Hebrew, on which he placed a stone in the Jewish custom.
The visit, which other foreign leaders have avoided, was meant to underscore Obama’s understanding that the modern state of Israel traces its roots to the Bible, not to the Holocaust.
Then Obama walked to Rabin’s grave, where he laid a stone that administration officials said was taken from the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.
Rabin fought for Israel’s independence in 1948, and as a prime minister forged the 1993 Oslo Accords with then-Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The two, along with Peres, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
The following year a Jewish extremist assassinated Rabin, and his grave has been a common stop for U.S. presidents since. Obama declined to visit Arafat’s tomb during a visit Thursday to Ramallah, another customary stop for many visiting dignitaries.
“A remarkable man,” Obama said as he shook hands with Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, Rabin’s daughter, one of several family members who joined the president at the gravesite.
After visiting the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, Obama set off to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the purported birthplace of Jesus.
A sandstorm grounded Obama’s planned short helicopter ride to Bethlehem, forcing him to drive into the occupied West Bank along a route that took him past the cement barrier Israel built to separate Israelis and Palestinians a few years ago.
Scattered street crowds were on hand as Obama’s motorcade entered Palestinian territory. One group of storekeepers waved and blew kisses at the motorcade.
But there were also a couple of large protest signs. “No return, no peace,” one said, apparently referring to the issue of Palestinian refugees. “Gringo, return to your country,” said another.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – TIME FOR TOURISM – AND THIS IS PART OF THE MISSION AS WELL. BY GOING TO PETRA PRESIDENT OBAMA DID A FAVOR TO JORDAN THAT ITS MAIN INCOME IS FROM TOURISM – BY PUBLICIZING ITS MOST IMPORTANT TOURISM SPOT.
US President Barack Obama tours the Treasury in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, Saturday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
PETRA, Jordan (AP) — US President Barack Obama set aside the Middle East’s tricky politics Saturday to marvel at the beauty of one of the region’s most stunning sites, the fabled ancient city of Petra, before heading back to Washington.
“This is pretty spectacular,” he said, craning his neck to gaze up at the rock faces after emerging from a narrow pathway into a sun-splashed plaza in front of the grand Treasury. The soaring facade is considered the masterpiece of the ancient city carved into the rose-red stone by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago.
Obama’s turn as tourist capped a four-day visit to the Middle East that included stops in Israel and the West Bank, as well Jordan. The White House set low policy expectations for the trip, and the president was returning to Washington with few tangible achievements to show. Aides said his intention instead was to reassure the region’s politicians and people — particularly in Israel — that he is committed to their security and prosperity.
Curious residents and picture-taking tourists lined the streets of modern Petra as Obama’s motorcade wound toward the entrance to the ancient city. The president, dressed in khaki pants, a black jacket and hiking boots, began his walking tour at the entrance to the Siq, a narrow, winding gorge cutting between two soaring cliffs.
The path opened into a dusty plaza with the massive columned Treasury as its centerpiece. Obama declared the carved monument is “amazing.”
The Bedouins named the building the Treasury because they believed that urns sculpted on top of it contained great treasures. In reality, the urns represented a memorial for Nabataean royalty. Over time, historians have disagreed on the Treasury’s purpose. However, a recent excavation proved that a graveyard exists underneath it.
The Nabataeans established Petra as a crucial junction for trade routes linking China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. The city flourished until trade routes were redirected in the seventh century, leading to Petra’s demise.
Petra is Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, drawing more than a half million visitors yearly since 2007. It may be familiar to many people who saw the 1989 movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Some scenes were filmed in the ancient city.
High winds and overcast skies nearly grounded Marine One, the presidential helicopter, in the Jordanian capital of Amman, which would have forced Obama to scrap the tourist stop. But the weather cleared enough for him and his delegation to make the hour-long flight across Jordan’s rugged landscape, arriving in Petra under bright sunshine.
The president departed Jordan after the tour and was due back in Washington late Saturday.
NOW SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY TAKES OVER. WITHOUT MISSING A MOMENT HE IS SATURDAY MORNING IN RAMALLAH AND WILL MEET THE ISRAELI PRIME MINSTER NETANYAHU AND MINISTER-NEGOTIATOR TSIPI LIVNI SATURDAY NIGHT.
US Secretary of State John Kerry waves goodbye as he leaves Ankara, Turkey, en route to Cairo, Egypt, earlier this month (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
AMMAN, Jordan — US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to further explore options for relaunching stalled peace talks after President Barack Obama’s Mideast trip this week.
Following up on Obama’s visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the State Department said Kerry would see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Saturday. After that meeting, Kerry will return to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His talks in Jerusalem will also be attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — the new ministerial overseer of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts — along with Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and his key negotiator, lawyer Yitzhak Molcho.
The focus: New ideas for enabling a resumption of direct negotiations. Netanyahu has reportedly been considering a package of goodwill gestures – including approval of building requests, and a release of prisoners — designed to encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the peace table.
Moves to enable a resumption of talks were reportedly discussed by Obama and Netanyahu on Friday morning, with Netanyahu detailing Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley under a future accord, and specifying that he wanted to see a “performance-based progression” in the talks — with measurable change on the ground as the criterion for gradual steps toward the “broad agreement” Obama said he was seeking in Ramallah Thursday.
During his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president, Obama called for the resumption of peace negotiations. He offered no new plan on how to get there but said Kerry would be spending considerable time on the matter.
“Peace is necessary,” Obama said Thursday in an address to Israeli students in Jerusalem. But he was decidedly more vague about what he or his secretary of state were going to do about it. Obama’s rhetoric throughout the visit seemed to suggest that the will to achieve peace must first and foremost come from the parties themselves, and that he wants to merely assume the position of an honest broker, an interlocutor who doesn’t impose concessions on either side.
It seems that Kerry, however, is eager to engage and try to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together, and if not reach a final agreement, perhaps an interim solution.
“Kerry very much wants to be active in this area. Obama is cautious about using his presidential political capital, but Kerry is eager to act — which is why he arrived before Obama and will leave after he goes,” Michael Herzog, a veteran of past Israeli peace negation teams, told the Global Post.
In the here and now of global politics, Obama is leaving behind his secretary of state to try to at least get negotiations underway again. Kerry is expected to spend much time in the region in the coming weeks and months.
Glenn Kessler March 22, 2013, for the Washington Post.
There are many similarities in the way the two presidents framed the issue — and a few key differences.