Apr 4 2014

Rest in Peace Talks?

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by Carly Beckerman-Boys

John Kerry, copyright Al-Jazeera English, source: flickr.com

John Kerry, copyright Al-Jazeera English, source: flickr.com

Despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s best efforts, the latest spurt of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks seems to have fizzled out. No one is particularly surprised of course but a quick look back at the Obama Administration’s Round Two in Israel-Palestine reveals just how little has been achieved.

Admittedly, Kerry did do a great job arm-twisting both parties back to the negotiating table in late July 2013 with the noble goal of reaching a final status agreement within nine months. As a gesture of (reluctant) good faith, President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority agreed to sit on their bids join UN treaties and conventions that would bolster the UN Non-Member Observer State status that the General Assembly awarded to Palestine in 2012. This temporarily spared Israel the stress of Palestine joining The Hague and, in exchange, Netanyahu’s government (begrudgingly) agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners incarcerated since before the Oslo Accords – albeit in four small batches as peace talks progressed. The key issues were supposed to be Jerusalem, security, borders and refugees, but a couple of obvious sticking points emerged.

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Mar 12 2014

Justice Impossible? The ICC and Syria

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by Mark Kersten

Homs Syria

Homs, Syria, 2012. Copyright Freedom House. Source: flickr.com

This week marks the third anniversary of the Syrian civil war. Fragile peace talks aimed at finally bringing the war to an end sputter on in Geneva. Report after report has been published documenting the extent and sheer brutality of the violence in Syria. Conference after conference has been held to discuss what can – and should – be done by the international community to bring this protracted war to an end. But day after day the conflict and the suffering continue.

Ending the war is one goal. But in a world where societies increasingly expect that perpetrators of atrocities will be held accountable, is it possible for international criminal justice to be achieved in Syria? If so, what is the best way forward?

It should be noted from the outset that Syria is not a member-state of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a result, the ICC would require a United Nations Security Council referral of the situation in Syria to the Court – as the Security Council previously did in the case of Libya and Darfur. And this is where the problems begin: will Security Council states agree to refer Syria to the ICC?

To date, the debate on justice in Syria has unfortunately suffered from a rigid, all-or-nothing approach. Either perfect justice must be achieved or no justice should be pursued; either the international community gets the ICC involved via a UN Security Council referral that funds the Court’s work and protects it from political manipulation or… well, nothing. As a result, attempts to elaborate how to achieve justice in Syria have marginalized (if not entirely ignored) middle-ground options on the basis that they aren’t perfect or exactly what should happen in an ideal world. The perfect solution has become the enemy of any solution.

But there are middle-ground solutions and these deserve more attention than they’ve received. Key actors involved in the conflict should weigh the costs and benefits of each. Here are three worth talking about.

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Posted by: Posted on by Ribale Sleiman-Haidar

Mar 3 2014

Yemen’s Negotiated Transition between the Elite and the Street

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by Tobias Thiel

A Map of Yemen’s Six Federal Regions, copyright: Yemen Times

A Map of Yemen’s Six Federal Regions, copyright: Yemen Times

After ten months of deliberations, Yemen’s 565-member National Dialogue Conference (NDC) closed its doors on January 25, 2014. The NDC was the flagship of Yemen’s negotiated transition process. Jamal Benomar, the UN Special Adviser for Yemen, widely advertised the transition as a model for averting a Syria-style civil war in the violence-riddled Arabian republic. He pronounced the NDC an ‘unprecedented achievement in the history of Yemen’—nothing short of a ‘miracle’—and described it as ‘the most genuine, transparent and inclusive national dialogue the region has ever seen.’

The trajectory of Yemen’s transition, however, is far less hopeful than the language of diplomacy suggests. Whether or not the negotiated transition has averted a civil war in Yemen remains purely speculative, and—even if it has done so indeed—is no guarantee for a peaceful future. Also, the NDC is not historically unprecedented in a country with a strong tradition of conciliatory conferences—some of which have culminated in bloodshed. Looking forward, the litmus test is thus not the consensus reached in the NDC, but whether the US$40,000,000 conference can engender tangible political, economic, legal and social reforms.

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Feb 27 2014

The Middle East Peace Process and U.S. Special Interest Groups

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by Mahmoud M.A. Abdou

In this post, Mahmoud Abdou presents a summary of his book The Middle East Peace Process and U.S. Special Interest Groups.

MEPeaceProcessMahmoudAbdouThe Middle East Peace Process and U.S. Special Interest Groups is meant as a contribution towards resolving the puzzle regarding the actual clout of pro-Israel U.S. special interest groups by studying their influence on the Middle East Peace Process. The author builds on his first-hand experience of living in Palestine and the U.S, and analytical tools he has acquired while studying the role of the United Nations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as U.S. history, politics and society. The study combines a qualitative analysis of U.S. official policies toward the Peace Process from 1991-2011, with a quantitative investigation into the Peace Process-related activities of pro-Israel U.S. special interest groups. The quantitative data was collected from public opinion polls, the Congressional Record, government documents, the reports of the Federal Election Commission, and the monthly publications of the non-partisan Washington Report on Middle East Affairs from 1989-2011. The qualitative data is based on experts’ and scholarly reflections on the Peace Process itself and on the influence of special interest groups on the making of U.S. foreign policy.

The book carefully follows the progress of the Peace Process from 1991-2011. For the last twenty years of U.S.-led peace negotiations, the alliance between the Israeli lobby and the evangelical Christian U.S. interest groups has ensured, by i.e. bloc voting and making campaign contributions, that only those U.S. politicians with unconditionally pro-Israel agenda are elected, which has made it difficult for the U.S. to be the mutual facilitator of the Peace Process. From advocating for the passage of resolutions in Congress that criticise and punish the Palestinians to directly funding Israeli settlement projects in the West Bank, those U.S. special interest groups have also undermined the two-state solution and marginalised the Palestinians’ rights.

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Feb 4 2014

Kerry’s Billions

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by Alaa Tartir

This article was originally published in The Middle East in London magazine

copyright U.S. Department of State, 2013, source: wikimedia.org

copyright U.S. Department of State, 2013, source: wikimedia.org

Since May 2013, there has been intense debate about US Secretary of State John Kerry’s economic plan for the occupied Palestinian territories. The plan – known as the Palestine Economic Initiative (PEI) – aims to develop the economy of the West Bank and Gaza over the next three years, as a prerequisite for a political settlement to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, very few of those welcoming or criticizing the plan know anything concrete about it. Hence I call it the ‘invisible plan’. On a trip to the West Bank in December 2013, I met Palestinian and international officials and diplomats who are involved directly or indirectly in the PEI. Their message was that there will not be, as many expect, a third intifada (uprising), but something very different: an ‘investment intifada’.

The PEI is invisible not only because it was prepared by a team of ‘international experts’, but also because the Palestinian people, whose economic development is at stake, are the last to know about it. This is not new. Development planning since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1993 has followed a non-participatory, top-down approach that conforms to the policy perceptions of the international financial institutions, and marginalizes the very people it is supposed to benefit. The invisibility of the plan is particularly problematic this time because the PEI promises an unattainable outcome (a 50% increase in Palestinian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over three years, a cut of two-thirds in unemployment rates and a virtual doubling of the Palestinian median wage). The disappointment this is likely to generate could produce unpleasant consequences. Many ordinary citizens I met in the West Bank fear that the PEI could be the biggest sell-out since the Oslo accords of the 1990s.

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