The case for including Hamas in peace talks

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In another excellent article Vartan Oskanian, the former Foreign Minister of Armenia, makes the case against excluding Hamas from Israel-Palestine talks. Although he is primarily focusing on the immediate need for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza, I think most of the arguments can be expanded to cover final peace talks overall — and why Hamas must be included.

Here are some of the points he makes, although I suggest everyone read the full essay, which is extremely thoughtful and balanced:

What’s happening in Gaza is not simply deplorable. It is – or ought to be – unacceptable. There cannot be any legal, humanitarian or logical justification. Missiles, underground tunnels and even Hamas’s professed determination to eliminate Israel do not justify the kind of collective and indiscriminate punishment of a civilian population in which the state of Israel is engaged.

Why? Because none of those Hamas goals and actions have had or can have any profound national security and existential threat for Israel and both Hamas and Israel know it. Hamas cannot destroy Israel, and Israel knows that it cannot reoccupy Gaza and eradicate Hamas at a cost that Israelis are willing to bear. So each side uses the other for its own goals.

Hamas presents a convenient bogeyman for the right-wing Israelis opposed to a two-state solution. Hamas’ hostile actions and loud threats provide ample reason to argue why Palestinians cannot be trusted in peace.

Hamas’ existence and legitimacy are derived from an ideology and strategy anchored on confrontation and resistance. The movement represents to many Palestinians an effort to preserve their national identity and pride by resisting and defying the occupation.

This is absolutely not to say that firing rockets into Israel, kidnapping Israeli citizens or blowing them up are acceptable or justifiable. The challenge here is to understand and appreciate the timing of events, their context, the proportionality of actions and each side’s vision about their own people and the future of the entire region.

 
I also found compelling his observation on the mixed signals Israel and its Western allies have sent on the notion of self-governance and democracy:

Meanwhile, the Western promotion of democracy in Palestine has taken different twists and turns. At one point, elections were resisted out of concern that it would enhance Yasser Arafat’s standing and image among the Palestinians. His death was hailed as an opportunity for the realisation of a vision of a democratic Palestinian state. It seems that for observers, or interested bystanders, elections are fine as long as they do not go the wrong way.

 
I flagged that passage in particular because I have noticed that Israel’s government tends to deal only with those it wishes to deal with, and once someone else takes the place of the previous government — as typically happens with democracies — everything falls apart, as if Israel cannot possibly adjust and move forward.

The reality of international relations, of course, is that we do not always get our preferred partner next door through democratic or other homegrown processes. A liberal democracy, one hopes, would seek to promote liberal democracy elsewhere, even while recognizing that might be the result. Instead, Israel accepts “realist” foreign policy’s aversion to the notion that democratization of neighbors is a high-priority/desirable goal, but then strips out the more critical recognition that countries have to accept the cards they are dealt with regard to their neighbors and not pretend that they have a different hand because they’d like that one better.

With the Palestinian territories, this mindset seems to manifest itself in recent Israeli policy as a determination since early 2006 to refuse to let the elected government take office after going to the trouble of setting up a system of democratic elections for the Palestinian territories. Why take this stance? One element seems to be a refusal to acknowledge that negotiating with the leaders chosen by the Palestinian people probably would produce more sustainable outcomes than a deal secured by leaders with no popular mandate. But the culprit, in part, also seems to be Israel’s (relatively successful) history of avoiding dealing with democratically-selected leaders generally, in favor of (more predictable) self-selecting authoritarian governments, who can be counted on not to change their minds suddenly or cave to pressure from various constituencies as easily.

From an alliance with the government of apartheid South Africa to various official and secret partnerships and negotiations with authoritarian-leaning or absolutist governments in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey over the decades, it is clear that Israel feels far more comfortable dealing with either foreign governments that Israel chooses or foreign governments that nobody chooses. The arrival of the democratic process (and decline in military rule) in its neighbors makes Israel’s leaders very skittish, as declining relations with Turkey indicated as its military was sidelined, or as tensions with Egypt between military governments suggested. Today, this results in refusing to deal with Hamas and only talking to Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, whose presidency in the Palestinian territories is now in its 9th year since elections were held.

However, with the other countries, the threat to Israel came from state military forces and therefore securing their support via deals with authoritarian rulers made a kind of strategic sense, which has held up so far, even if it will probably eventually backfire. If, for example, the Egyptian people (or even average soldiers) continue to oppose Israel — which they do — they aren’t going to go rogue en masse and invade Israel all by themselves. That would only happen with orders from the top. Thus, a self-perpetuating dictatorship at the top is viewed as a safer partner.

However, the threat from the Palestinians, as with Lebanon, is not from state actors and regular armed forces but rather from a popular insurgency. Thus, even handpicking the government wouldn’t change the nature of the threat to Israel. Without popular support for any Palestinian leader making a deal, a deal will be meaningless. Whoever makes a deal with Israel is going to have to be able to go back and sell it to their base, which means they have to have a base. A representative during negotiations must actually represent someone. Israel wishing for a different popular choice of representatives from the Palestinian side won’t change that reality.

Indeed, this brings us back to the larger problem in Israeli policy of a desire to be in control of not just the content and terms of negotiations, but also who is participating in them. Like it or not, the Palestinians very narrowly elected a plurality of Hamas MPs in the January 2006 legislative elections, which implied Hamas would be representing or co-representing the Palestinians in ongoing talks, as the leading party in the Palestinian cabinet. That was the choice of the same voters who will be needed later to get on board with any peace deal. Nevertheless, within 5 days of the election — before Hamas had even taken office — Israel and Western backers announced heavy sanctions on the Palestinian Authority (and the indefinite seizure of $600 million per year in Palestinian tax revenue).

It was stated that the sanctions would not be lifted unless Hamas agreed to conditions previously negotiated by the unelected PLO without their consent, or anyone’s consent, really. That demand on Hamas was a particularly hard pill to swallow for a group formed in the late 1980s as an alternative to the PLO and elected in opposition to PLO/Fatah corruption. It was also, I would argue, a fairly hasty and short-sighted move, given that rocket attacks from Gaza had fallen dramatically in the 5 months between the Israeli withdrawal from the Strip and the 2006 Palestinian elections — and given the reality that most of the key hardliners in the Hamas political leadership had been killed in the preceding few years and replaced by more moderate figures, who expressed an openness to compromise. Read more

Don’t forget about Poland (and their CIA torture sites)

A reminder this past week from a key European court that Poland helped the CIA torture U.S. detainees outside American jurisdiction after 9/11 (yielding little to no information):

For the first time, a court has ruled on the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison network in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday found “beyond reasonable doubt” that two current prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA and tortured there.

The language in the judgment is damning. Evidence of the prisoners’ rendition and treatment is “coherent, clear and categorical.” The facts presented by their legal teams “demonstrate” that the Polish authorities knew at that time that the CIA was using Szymany airport and, as a secret detention site, the Stare Kiejkuty military base. The court judged it “inconceivable” that rendition aircraft landed in and departed from Poland, or that the CIA occupied the premises in the Polish base, without Poland being “informed of and involved in the preparation and execution of the [CIA’s High Value Detainee] Programme.” It concluded that “Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring.” In short, through its “acquiescence and connivance,” Poland “must be regarded as responsible” for secret imprisonment, torture and transfer onward to further secret imprisonment.
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Numerous tortured suspects, released after the CIA belatedly determined their lack of involvement in terrorist activity, gave firsthand accounts of their treatment to lawyers and NGOs.
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It is easy to be lulled into complacency by the bureaucratic language with which the CIA and the U.S. Department of Justice crafted their internal memorandums, but, as the court recognized, what went on in Poland and in other countries that hosted black sites included suffocation by water, confinement in small boxes, beatings, extreme sleep deprivation, exposure to cold and noise and other “enhanced techniques.”

 

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Although Poland did not officially join the European Union until May 1, 2004, Poland did join the Council of Europe on November 26, 1991, making it subject to the European Court of Human Rights well before the start of the U.S. War on Terror.

Post-Cold War Poland has been rapidly sliding toward disappointment with the United States after years of blind support that ultimately led as far as endorsement of secret CIA torture prisons and joining the ill-conceived U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. They expected to get a lot out of such a compliant relationship with the United States and instead got very little. Read more

Boko Haram grabs wife of Cameroon Deputy PM

Boko Haram has kidnapped the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali of Cameroon and local officials in the same town, following an announcement that Cameroon’s military would join a multi-national coalition against them. Deputy Prime Minister Ali narrowly escaped his home during the assault, which took place in Kolofata, a border town extremely far in the north of Cameroon, in a region that was once part of an empire centering in northern Nigeria.

The country, which is located next to Nigeria, Boko Haram’s home base, had said it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of this year when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. The girls are believed to have been taken to the forests near the border with northern Cameroon.

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Cameroon — a country once carved out of colonial remainders by Imperial Germany and then split at random by France and Britain before re-merging itself after independence — now finds itself as an unusually stable dictatorship wedged between the rising conflict in northern Nigeria and the genocidal civil war in Central African Republic, exposed along lengthy borders on both sides. The populations in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon have long had cultural and economic interchange, since the border was an arbitrary colonial one crossing through an existing society.

The government of Cameroon, approaching the 32nd year of President Paul Biya’s tenure (4th longest in Africa) has taken a hard line previously against neighboring rebel factions operating within its borders, knowing that letting them build up typically means trouble for the host country eventually. Now it may have dragged itself definitively into this conflict by publicly siding against Boko Haram.

It seems to have begun in earnest:

Cameroon’s long and porous border with Nigeria means Boko Haram fighters can come and go at will, attacking police stations and villages, and spreading terror throughout the region, says BBC Africa editor Mary Harper.

The group has attacked Cameroon three times in as many days in the past week, killing at least four soldiers, Reuters reports.

On Friday, more than 20 members of the militant group were jailed in Cameroon on charges of possessing illegal firearms and plotting an insurrection.

US embassy staff moved out of Libya

In response to the growing chaos in the battle for control of Libya’s capital, the United States has moved its embassy staff in Tripoli out of the country, to neighboring Tunisia.

Staff, including marine guards providing security to the embassy, have been transferred to Tunisia “due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias,” [the U.S. government said]. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was a “real risk” to staff.
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The US embassy in Tripoli was already operating on limited staffing. All remaining personnel were driven overland to Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday. The US military said it had “assisted in the relocation” of embassy staff, using F-16 and MV-22 Osprey aircraft. It said the five-hour operation was “conducted without incident”.

 
Turkey and the United Nations also pulled out their staffs.

libya-flagThe recent disorder in the capital centers on the airport (and which militia will control it), but the clash there is part of a wider struggle for power across the country.

That crisis is currently pitting Islamist politicians and their militias, who have been in power at least until recently, against an opposition coalition of anti-Islamist militias, anti-Islamist armed forces divisions, and General Khalifa Hifter. You can read our background report on the situation for more details.

AZ official says agonizing 2-hour execution was not “botched”

Another horrific death penalty episode, this time in Arizona, has resulted in a temporary suspension of the penalty in the state.

The execution of Mr. Wood was, by all accounts, an unusual one: Once a vein had been tapped, it took one hour and 52 minutes for the drugs pumped into him to do their work; the process dragged on long enough for Mr. Wood’s lawyers to file an emergency appeal to a Federal District Court to stop the execution.

Some witnesses to Mr. Wood’s execution said that he gasped, seemingly for air, more than 600 times as he died. “The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed,” wrote one witness, Michael Kiefer, a reporter for The Arizona Republic.
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The episode has once again stoked the debate over the kinds and source of the drugs used in executions and led the state to promise an investigation. Mr. Wood’s execution was the fourth troubled one this year, and his injection was a two-drug combination — hydromorphone, an opioid painkiller that suppresses breathing, and midazolam, a sedative — that was used in a prolonged execution in Ohio in January.

 
States have been forced to improvise on lethal injection combos this year following an extensive effort by the European Union — where most of the ingredients originate — to ban exports of materials potentially used in executions to U.S. states with the death penalty. It’s no longer entirely clear in some states what exactly is being used, and even when the ingredients are disclosed, the effects (or effectiveness) are not fully known ahead of time.

The Attorney General of Arizona put a temporary halt on the state death penalty, pending a full inquiry into this week’s incident.

Meanwhile, the state Corrections chief insisted it had gone according to plan:

Charles L. Ryan, the director of the state’s Department of Corrections rejected the notion that the execution was botched, despite the fact that the procedure of death by lethal injection usually takes about 15 minutes. He said in a statement that an autopsy by the Pima County medical examiner, concluded on Thursday, found that the intravenous lines were “perfectly placed,” “the catheters in each arm were completely within the veins” and “there was no leakage of any kind.”

 
I get the sense that he doesn’t realize the implication of insisting this was not botched is that it was intended to be an agonizing 2 hour death. Unless, that was actually the goal, but I highly doubt it, given that intentionally cruel methods of execution would expose the state to very credible lawsuits on the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment.

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Tomb of the Prophet Jonah blown up outside Mosul

In the continuing battle over the religious future of the city of Mosul, the modern heir to the Biblical city of Nineveh, the Tomb of Jonah (also known as the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, after his Arabic name) was blown up today. Video showed the structure being completely leveled by explosives.

The Mosque, previously a Church and originally part of an Assyrian palace complex, was supposed to be the burial ground of the 8th Century BCE prophet most famous for being swallowed by a fish when he tried to avoid going to Nineveh to preach. Today the area is a suburb of Mosul, which lies across the river from where Nineveh stood.

Government officials blamed ISIS for the attack, which seems to be the case. It was not immediately obvious exactly why the extremist Sunni Islamist would target a Sunni Mosque of significance to the core of Islam. Jonah/Yunus is one of the crossover figures from the Hebrew Bible, Christian Old Testament, and Quran.

However, ISIS has reportedly destroyed a number of other Sunni Mosques in Mosul already since capturing it in June, perhaps to remove competition against their hardline views.

Less than a week ago, ISIS expelled all the Christians from the city for the first time in 18 centuries.

Video still seconds after detonation of the minaret and building complex. Watch

Video still, seconds after detonation of the minaret and building complex. Watch

UK has a real arms sales problem on its hands

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC - Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

No. 10 Downing St (Credit: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC – Ministry of Defense via Wikimedia)

A parliamentary report has found that the British government has not revoked arms sale licenses to Russia in compliance with sanctions against the country following its annexation of Crimea, despite bold claims by the Cameron government.

This comes on the heels of detailed allegations that UK firms sold dual-use (military or police) weapons to Turkey immediately following the vicious 2013 crackdown by Turkish police in several cities, and it echoes revelations that, in 2012, the UK government knowingly approved exports of a key ingredient in Sarin gas to the sanctioned regime in Syria during the Civil War (which were only blocked by the EU).

Details on the new Russia report, according to The Guardian:

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.
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Sir John Stanley, former Conservative defence secretary and chairman of the Commons arms control committees, said there was evidence that appeared to directly contradict the prime minister’s claim that he had already stopped all arms exports to Russia.
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Stanley had already written to Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, asking him to explain why, according to official figures given to the MPs, of 285 current licences for Russia, only 34 had been suspended or revoked.

 
Why can’t David Cameron’s government get it together to halt British companies from selling weapons to governments they shouldn’t be doing business with, by law? Is it intentional negligence to keep the arms and money flowing?

On Syria, the laughable line from the government was that the system had worked. This time:

“We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.”

 
So when exactly does it become clear that Russia or Syria might use weapons for internal repression? Or what about Turkey, literally right after it engaged in internal repression?

And what do we make of this accusation in the Russia report?

It says the most significant change in the government’s policy on arms exports over the past year is the dropping of the wording in the arms sales criteria that: “An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed … by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression”.

You know, in the sense, that that action is exactly the opposite of the supposed policy stated by the government spokesperson.

The United Kingdom is the 7th largest arms exporting country in the world by dollar value annually, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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