Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Search Of A Future: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 April 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau
19 April 2016
In Search Of A Future
By Ramzy Baroud
What A Time! What a World!
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
The Benefits of Demarcated Borders
By Jamal Khashoggi
Moving Saudi-US Relations beyond Mutual Ambivalence
By Andrew Bowen
Are The US And Russia Helping Or Deceiving The Syrians?
By Marwan Bishara
Revisiting the Assad Files
By Diana Moukalled
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
In Search Of A Future
By Ramzy Baroud
19 April 2016
We won’t act like them, we will not use violence or force, we are peaceful (people), we believe in peace, in peaceful popular resistance.
This was part of a message issued by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in October — only days after a few incidents took place in which Palestinian youth were accused of attacking Israeli soldiers and settlers with knives.
The message would have carried some weight were it not laden with contradictions. On one hand, Abbas’ supposed “peace” quest has only entrenched the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and all but completely isolated illegally occupied and annexed East Jerusalem.
Moreover, what “peaceful popular resistance” is Abbas, 80, referring to? What war of “peaceful” national liberation has he been leading?
Of course, while Abbas continues to prophesize about some non-existent peace, Israel continues to wreak havoc on Palestinians, using every means of violence at its disposal.
Granted, Israel’s propensity to maintain its violent occupation cannot be blamed on Abbas. It is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition that should be blamed squarely for the occupation, the mistreatment and humiliation of Palestinians on a daily basis.
However, such truth should not detract from Abbas’ terrible legacy and ongoing misconduct. The huge discrepancy between funds allocated to Palestinian security forces — which never confront Israel’s military occupation, only Palestinian Resistance — and those spent to assist farmers in their “sumoud” (steadfastness) while their land is being targeted and confiscated daily, is a testament to the mixed priorities of Abbas and his Authority.
In a recent interview, he insisted that security coordination with Israel is a top priority for him. Without such coordination, the PA will find itself “on the brink of collapse,” he told Israel Channel 2 on March 31.
Apart from apprehending suspected Palestinian resisters, the security coordination includes searching schoolchildren’s bags for knives, according to the Palestinian leader. “Our security forces are entering schools and checking if students are carrying knives. In one school, we found 70 students with knives, and we told them that this was wrong. I told them I do not want you to kill someone and die; I want you to live and for others to live, too.”
Abbas’ statement on life and death does not, in the least, address the context of oppression, the humiliation of military occupation and the prevailing sense of despair that exists among young Palestinians, caught between a belligerent, violent occupation, and a submissive leadership.
Convincing them not to “kill someone and die, involved the security forces arresting the students who were found with knives, questioning them, torturing them and threatening their families,” wrote Palestinian commentator, Munir Shafiq.
Writing in Rai Al-Youm, Kamal Khalf wonders if it is time to look into the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas, a man who has ruled with an expired mandate for years. While refraining from any personal attack on Abbas, Khalf raises the possibility whether the PA President’s emotional and psychological well-being in his old age ought to be questioned, especially when one considers some of his latest statements: Attacking Palestinian Resistance, searching children’s schoolbags and avowing his love for Israeli music.
When Abbas Zaki, the well-respected member of Fatah’s Central Committee, returned from a recent visit to Tehran, he was attacked by Abbas who “accused him of receiving $50,000 from the Iranians and he demanded the money be given to him instead,” he wrote.
The number of Abbas’ bizarre actions and strange statements seem to be increasing with age. It is no secret, of course, that there has been much discussion about succession within Fatah and the PA, once Abbas is no longer in the picture. Until then, such eccentricity should be expected.
However, it is essential that the discussion does not entirely focus on Abbas, for he is merely representative of a whole class of usurpers who have used the Palestinian cause to advance their own positions, wealth and prestige.
There is little evidence to suggest that Abbas’ current position — soft on the occupation, hard on the Palestinians — is new, or motivated by age and mental health. For the sake of fairness, the arbitrator of the Oslo accords has been consistent in this regard.
Since Arafat’s death in 2004, and his advent to power through a questionable democratic process in 2005, Abbas has worked laboriously to coexist with the Israeli occupation but failed to coexist with his own Palestinian rivals.
True, it has been a decade of unmitigated Palestinian leadership failure, but it certainly took more than Abbas to manage that political fiasco. Now, at 80, Abbas seems to have become a scapegoat for a whole class of Palestinians, which has worked to manage the occupation and benefit from it.
Source: arabnews.com/columns/news/912551
What a Time! What a World!
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Apr 19, 2016
“May you live in interesting times!” says the ancient Chinese curse. Are we? Just look around you! Or at the TV screen in front of you! Are we in Hell? Or is it just a nightmare?
I keep track of what is going on, on hour-by-hour basis. As a political analyst, I have to, even though my doctor and wife are not in total agreement, to say the least!
Has it always been like this? There were times in the past, when the world was on fire. In my lifetime, I could vividly remember the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon (1982), the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990), the US invasion of Iraq (2003), then came the so-called “Arab Spring” that started with a protest in Tunis 2010. Within months, a domino effect took Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain by storm.
Now, it is constant, persistent and nonstop “Reality TV.” Like a drama series, you need to watch, document and memorize every episode, lest you have missed something that might explain anything!
I am watching now, for an instance, the Iraqi episode. I see the elected representatives of the people in a group fistfight inside the Parliament. The country is half lost to terrorists and extremists — Daesh (so-called IS) has created its own nation in the Iraqi territories they gained so easily and quickly from the government and its mighty armies!
In the Libyan episode, competing Libyan governments are in a street fight — with live ammunition! For years, now, since the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorial regime, the Libyans could not agree on one government. The country is divided among tribal, political and religious groups
The Yemeni episode is not less dramatic or complicated. Rebels are fighting the government. Arabs are supporting the government. The UN Security Council, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the rest of the world community — except Iran — are standing with the government—in principle.
Then comes the ongoing Syrian fight. This time it’s not just locals fighting each other. Iranians, Russians, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Europeans, Americans, even Chinese, are in the show. The theatre has become more complicated with each entrance of a new player.
Interesting in all the above is the American stands. On the face of it, they seem in and out at the same time. Different officials, from the president to his Cabinet and military chiefs, say different things, at different times.
Once they are with Geneva 1 agreement that has no place for Assad, and then they don’t seem in a hurry to take him out of the picture. Once they are totally opposed to the Russian and Iranian interference, and then they look like they were in bed with them last night. If that is not confusing enough, they called for Syrian neighbours to shoulder the responsibility of fighting Daesh and stopping the Syrian regime’s war on its own people, and when we answered the call and announced our readiness, they put us on hold!
Valid questions are raised even by NATO members and US allies. They include: Why after over a year of bombing, Daesh is not only intact, but also expanding; its oil fields are humming, bumping and selling? Why would the US stand with Russia in support of the terrorist Kurdish groups, threatening the security of a NATO member —Turkey? How could the US trust a revolutionary, unstable, rouge regime, like the mullahs, to serve its interests in a volatile region like ours – — side stepping traditional, steadfast allies? Why the hesitation in supporting the Syrian resistance and providing, or allowing others to provide them, with badly needed equipment to face Russian, Iranian, Shiite militias and regime holocaust?
Not all news is depressing, though. Saudi Arabia is leading the Arab and Islamic resurrection. The Muslim Nation is awakening, and steps are taken to diagnose the ills and take proactive measures to resolve troubles and isolate troublemakers.
The war in Yemen is nearing its end and Iran is publicly admonished and criticized for interference by its agents — the Houthis.
In the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Iran and its agent of terror, Hezbollah, are named, shamed, and isolated.
The OIC Summit in Istanbul (April, 2016) condemned Iran for its destructive intervention in member states’ affairs and the spreading of division, sectarianism and hate, as well as “the aggressions against the missions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and Mashhad.”
The Conference also “rejected Iran’s inflammatory statements on the execution of judicial decisions against the perpetrators of terrorist crimes in Saudi Arabia, considering those statements a blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom.”
Our world is getting more interesting by the day, but at least someone is doing something about the dark side of it. And I am proud and optimistic that my country is in the driver’s seat.
Source: saudigazette.com.sa/opinion/what-a-time-what-a-world/
The Benefits of Demarcated Borders
By Jamal Khashoggi
19 April 2016
An American proverb says: “Good walls make good neighbors.” The same goes for demarcated borders, such as the recent demarcation of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The latter has long been keen on demarcating borders with its neighbors, such as a deal with Kuwait in 2000 to divide a neutral zone. This was preceded by a deal with Qatar in 1992, with Oman in 1991, and with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1974. The first such agreement was with Bahrain in 1958.
The fact that each deal was signed in a different Saudi area may be an unintended symbol of the extension of relations between Gulf countries. Despite their borders, their people can move to any Gulf city due to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) guarantees on freedom of travel and work.
After signing a border agreement with UAE founder Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan, the late Saudi King Faisal reportedly said: “Abu Dhabi’s borders end here in Jeddah.” This spirit resolved any subsequent problems demarcating borders and implementing agreements in areas with massive oil resources.
More importantly, Riyadh quickly registered such deals at the Arab League and the United Nations, thus avoiding dangerous problems caused by oil companies. The kingdom was also keen to seize the appropriate political moments to demarcate its borders with undemocratic countries such as Yemen and Iraq, which were highly influenced by their leaders’ moods.
Saudi King Salman’s proposed bridge linking his country and Egypt will alter the region’s policies, economy and geography
Demarcating borders with Iraq was the most complicated given competitive bilateral relations from the days of the Hashemites in Iraq until the era of late President Saddam Hussein. The deal was finalized at the start of the Iran-Iraq war, and all relevant documents were submitted to the United Nations. It was also not easy to reach agreement with Yemen given complicated bilateral ties, but a binding deal was finalized 2003.
Riyadh not only demarcated its borders with its immediate neighbors, but also with those across the Gulf and the Red Sea. There is a maritime border agreement with Iran, and another with Sudan. The former has benefitted both countries by avoiding disagreements over oil and gas deposits, particularly amid current bilateral tensions due to Tehran’s hostile policies.
Tiran and Sanafir
Riyadh is keen on excellent ties with Egypt. The lack of a border agreement could raise disputes, even among brothers. Nevertheless, some are asking: “Why now, when the Tiran and Sanafir islands have been under Egyptian control for three quarters of a century?” There are four reasons. Firstly, the timing is appropriate as bilateral relations are at their best, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has the popularity and ability to take such a decision.
Secondly, Riyadh has become the most important regional power, and it is time for it to bear its responsibility in this sensitive region, where Israel possesses power and influence that it does not deserve. Thirdly, Saudi King Salman’s proposed bridge linking his country and Egypt will alter the region’s policies, economy and geography. It is also best for the islands to be returned to Saudi sovereignty.
Fourthly, demarcated borders make for good neighbors. No one knows how many gas and oil reservoirs there are in the Gulf of Aqaba and south of it - that could lead to future disputes without clear borders.
The details of the demarcation agreement were not revealed, but knowing the Saudis’ style of signing deals and negotiating, they would not miss a single detail. An example of this is the agreement in which the Saudi-Jordanian border, which the British drew, was amended in 1965 when Saudi Arabia gave up tens of kilometres of its coast to lengthen Jordan’s coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba.
Riyadh also gave up a considerable area of the Sirhan Valley to Jordan. The deal obliges the division of resources discovered in these areas. Perhaps there is a similar clause in the Saudi-Egyptian agreement to handle future possibilities.
Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/04/19/The-benefits-of-demarcated-borders.html
Moving Saudi-US Relations Beyond Mutual Ambivalence
By Andrew Bowen
19 April 2016
Nearing the end of his presidency, President Obama’s visit to the Gulf this week is a symbolic final gesture before he leaves office in January of his commitment to his Gulf partners over a year since he hosted a number of the GCC leaders at Camp David. However, Obama’s frank words in his interview with The Atlantic underline a leader who is equally deeply skeptical of his Gulf counterparts and of the post-1979 Washington consensus on America’s strategic position in the region.
Arriving in Riyadh, Obama will be offering a mixed message: continued American investment in the GCC’s security but a message of change as well: Washington and the GCC should be looking beyond the waters of the Arabian Gulf to Iran to build a more secure region and to address regional challenges. The President will convey this message to an understandably sceptical audience who he’s had at best an ambivalent relationship with these past eight years.
Darker Realities
This message though obscures darker realties that Obama has often been to dismissive of. As Obama has made the bet that empowering the “moderates” in Iran over the longer-term will reap eventual rewards, President Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei are currently playing a more insidious game to the detriment of Washington and its allies.
With Iran expanding its ballistic missile program, the Iranian leadership is focused more on a contest for regional hegemony than “sharing” the neighbourhood with its Gulf neighbours. The failure to reach a production freeze in Doha this past Sunday underscores how Khamenei and Rowhani are unwilling to make any concessions to improve relations with their Gulf neighbours in their efforts to revive Iran’s regional position.
While the Summit may not resolve the larger strategic differences between President Obama and his Gulf partners, it isn’t a completely ceremonial exercise
President Obama seems unwilling to digest this reality in fear of unravelling his legacy, and instead will be coming to the summit with no real deliverables. Obama’s more inclined to pontificate and to discuss the tactical minutiae of their relations (increased security assistance and more bureaucratic inventions that give the appearance of deep cooperation) than to substantively address his regional partners’ strategic concerns. In the final months of his presidency, the President isn’t interested in bridging these strategic differences beyond cosmetic concessions.
It’s not a surprise then the US presidential elections garner more interest than the sitting President’s own stay in the Kingdom: will the next American President have a more sanguine view of Iran? Will a President Clinton come to the 2017 Gulf summit with a strategy to contain Iran’s rising regional aggression and expansion?
Summit Potential
While the Summit may not resolve the larger strategic differences between President Obama and his Gulf partners and 2017 is on the horizon, the Summit isn’t completely a ceremonial exercise. It’s an opportunity to address regional challenges such as Syria and Yemen. With Washington considering recalibrating again its approach to address Da’esh’s growth, this Summit is an opportunity to discuss options for deeper GCC security involvement in the military campaigns in Syria and Iraq to counter the extremist group.
Moscow’s enhanced regional role could also be examined and how the GCC states and the US can work to counter-balance Russia’s support for President Assad. President Obama could also discuss how the US can better work with the Gulf States to deepen their conventional and asymmetric capabilities in the face of the deepening threat Iran poses to their security.
Obama will push for further integration and inter-operability of the GCC’s security architecture and will also discuss how the US can more effectively support and work with its Gulf partners in regional military campaigns and operations (this follows in line with the President’s belief that the GCC states should take more responsibility of their regional security).
Beyond purely hard power issues, the summit is an opportunity for President Obama to discuss with his counterparts states in transition such as Egypt, Tunisia, and to a more complicated degree, Libya and how the US and the GCC can work together to more effectively ensure these states’ prosperity and stability.
While its unlikely that the visit will move their respective relations beyond mutual ambivalence, Obama has an opportunity to re-establish some level of trust after his sharp comments in The Atlantic so that he can have a better working relationship with the GCC states in the final months of his presidency and importantly leave his successor more stable ground for a deeper relationship.
Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/04/19/Obama-visit-and-moving-Saudi-US-relations-beyond-mutual-ambivalence.html
Are The US And Russia Helping Or Deceiving The Syrians?
By Marwan Bishara
18 Apr 2016
When American and Russian spokespersons deny the existence of a secret agreement between them over Syria, they’re not necessarily lying - but they are being misleading.
They don’t need an agreement to have an understanding. This is evident by what they’ve highlighted as much as what they de-emphasised during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s last visit to Moscow.
It’s also evident in Kerry’s attempts to bring US regional allies on board with these new understandings.
Syria four years on: What is the prospect for peace?
Russian media is abuzz with leaks and innuendos about the US finally recognising that the way forward in Syria goes through Moscow, and that treating Russia like a second-rate power - whether in Eastern Europe or the Middle East - could equally hurt American interests.
ISIL First
After a four-hour meeting between Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the relations between the two countries, which soured over Ukraine, appeared to be softening.
The secretary said the US "reached a better understanding of decisions President [Vladimir] Putin has made of late", a particularly tolerant comment after the two countries engaged in what seemed to be a proxy war in Syria.
They came out of their meeting with a "target schedule" and agreed to speed up the timetable for Syrian political transition - with the goal of having a new Syrian draft constitution by August.
Now that Putin has strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s position, and Obama made it clear he will only focus on fighting ISIL during his last year in office, the ducks are lined up for a Russo-American 'understanding' on Syria.
Indeed, despite their distaste for each other, US President Barack Obama and Putin have found a way to work out their differences through their foreign ministers. (This is the subject of a five-part series that Al Jazeera will publish in the coming days).
The US administration doesn't deny its need for and willingness to work with the Kremlin to get this done, especially when Obama made it clear that he has no intention to get his own hands dirty in distant conflicts.
Well, with one exception: isil.
The Obama administration announced this week that it will expand its military campaign against ISIL and find ways to intensify the battle.
Now that Putin has strengthened Bashar al-Assad's position, and Obama made it clear he will only focus on fighting ISIL during his last year in office, the ducks are lined up for a Russo-American "understanding" on Syria.
In short: ISIL first, Assad last.
Assad Last
The US has caved in on the need for Assad to go and accepted the Russian position that the choice should be left to the Syrians - or, in other words, that Assad must stay.
Lavrov covered up their disagreements on the issue by saying: "The US has plenty of partners who do not agree with them ... It does not mean that the differences on one particular issue should stop them from talking at all."
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Reuters]
Unless asked about the Syrian dictator, the secretary didn’t even bother bringing him up after the talks - refusing to say whether or not the future of Assad figured in the talks.
The new Russo-American complicity centres on ignoring the “contentious” issue of Assad’s future in favour of focusing instead on writing a new constitution that redefines the Syrian system of governance and the role of the presidency.
They reckon that if the Syrians embrace a parliamentary system with only a symbolic role for the presidency, then Assad would lose his powers.
And even if Syrians embrace a presidential system, Assad could run like any other Syrian in a future transparent, internationally monitored election based on a new constitution with clear divisions of authority.
And therein lies the scam.
'Like any other Syrian'
No, Assad is not "like any other Syrian”.  Any such phrasing is an insult to the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who died because Assad insisted on monopolising power.
It’s an understatement to say that Assad has forfeited his right to run for president when he barrel-bombed his own cities. But such a moral argument is lost on the cynics, many of those governing the region and the world.
And what about the political argument? The basic premise advanced by Moscow and embraced by Washington, goes as follows: Why dictate who should or could govern the Syrians, when they can make that decision in their own in democratic elections to be held in just over a year's time.
What appears to be a pragmatic, even a democratic position is in fact an utterly cynical one. Assad is like no other Syrian, not only because he’s responsible for more war crimes than any other, but also because he's got all the power in his hands and all the security services under his command.
As long as he continues to control or intimidate the population centres of the country, notably the capital, he will continue to dictate progress and regress during the transitional period according to the interests of his regime.
The lesson from Yemen is instructive in this regard. Even when the international community sidelined President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he continued to exercise great power through his links with the military, and eventually conspired in driving the country into civil war.
Does anyone really think that a dictator like Assad, who ruled over Syria for the past 16 years, is about to run and lose elections?
You know something? Maybe he would have if only he hadn't sacrificed a quarter of a million people just to hold on to power.
That's why after five years of indifference to their suffering, asking the Syrians to fight ISIL and to give Assad a chance is as short-sighted as it is deceitful and dangerous.
Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/04/russia-helping-deceiving-syrians-160418090758023.html
Revisiting the Assad Files
By Diana Moukalled
19 April 2016
As the Geneva talks on the Syrian conflict resumed, the New Yorker revealed documents that show President Bashar al-Assad’s responsibility for mass murder and torture.
However, this did not obstruct the talks, nor the Syrian regime holding a charade of parliamentary elections. There is schizophrenia in terms of how Western politicians and media outlets deal with Syria.
For example, for an international channel to broadcast a detailed report on the significant documents that the New Yorker published, then broadcast news of regime celebrations over the elections without noticing the inconsistency between these two developments, exposes negligence regarding the approach toward anything related to Syria.
The world has grown accustomed to the regime’s mass murder. Meanwhile, international talks completely resemble the empty celebration over the farcical elections. At this point, we deserve it when Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad says Assad’s departure will never happen.
Scare-mongering over what would replace the regime if it fell becomes the justification for remaining silent over its violations
Media coverage of the elections was neutral in its language, to the extent of collusion. Scare-mongering over what would replace the regime if it fell becomes the justification for remaining silent over its violations.
Source: english.alarabiya.net/en/views/2016/04/19/The-Assad-files.html
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