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U.S. split deepens over Putin's intentions in Syria civil war

Russian military jets flying from Syria seen shortly before landing at airbase in Voronezh region
By Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia?s latest military moves in Syria have sharpened divisions within the U.S. administration over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin genuinely backs a U.N.-led initiative to end the civil war or is using the negotiations to mask renewed military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Russia has repositioned artillery near the disputed city of Aleppo, several U.S. officials told Reuters. Despite withdrawing some fixed-wing aircraft in March, Russia has also bolstered its forces in Syria with advanced helicopter gunships, and renewed airstrikes against moderate opposition groups, said U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Category >> Palestine
file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 3 Nov 2011 10:18 AM
You're Also Right Posted by Nissim Dahan
A friend of mine, Sagi Melamed, wrote this article. As you read it, ask yourself this: What do you do, to promote the cause of peace, when both sides of a conflict believe they're "right?" Perhaps part of the answer is to put on a shelf somewhere, at least for a while, the issue of who is right and who is wrong. Let everyone think they're right. And in the meantime, create new realities on the ground, which speak louder than words, and which point to the possibility of peace. Why not build a Green Industrial Zone in places like Gaza, and see 300,000 Jews, Christians and Muslims working together to support themselves, to grow their economies, and to solve the environmental issues endemic to the region, such as clean water, healthy care, green energy and food production? After a while, when people begin making money together, they may finally find a way to get along. They will humanize one another in each other's eye. And little by little, the contentious issues that kept them apart may not seem as insurmountable as they once were. It's just a thought.  

You're Also Right

Sagi Melamed


There is a well-known story about a rabbi who was called upon to settle a dispute between two of his followers.  The first man poured out his complaints to the rabbi, and when he finished, the rabbi said, "You're right."  Then it was the second one's turn.  When he finished, the rabbi said, "You're also right."  The rabbi's wife, who had been listening to the conversation, said incredulously to her husband, "What do you mean, ‘You're also right'? They can't both be right!"  The rabbi thought for a few moments, and then replied, "You know, my dear, you're also right."


If an alien were to land in our general vicinity, his response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would probably be like that of the rabbi in the story: You're both right.


 The Palestinian people are right when they expect and demand independence.  The Palestinian father is right to long for a life in which he can sleep safe at home without fearing a midnight pounding on his door.  The Palestinian woman is right to want to go from place to place without having to go through security checkpoints or risk arrest.


The Jewish people were also right when they returned to their homeland after a 2,000 year exile, establishing their own national home.  Jews are right to fear hatred and persecution, right to believe that only by relying on their own resources, can they prevent the nightmare of another Holocaust.  Jews are right to state that they entitled to all they have achieved through their own efforts.  The Jewish people are correct when they point out that the world has totally unreasonable expectations of them, expectations that are never imposed on any other people.  And they are also right to fear that if they give away some of their land today, then tomorrow the Palestinians might demand it all.


Friends and neighbors may say, "Why do you, the grandson of a refugee from Germany, offspring of kibbutz founders, army officer, and member of a religious community in the Galilee, feel the need to justify the position of our enemies?"  I reply, "I don't have to justify anything, but I do have to understand."  It is not hard to find untruths, gross exaggerations and significant holes in the Palestinian version of the conflict.  But even the most extreme among us cannot deny that Palestinians lack freedom, live in very difficult conditions, declare themselves to be a people and are hungry for independence.


In the 90s I believed, along with many others, that we could find a way to live side-by-side.  We had the feeling that it was beginning to happen, that it would come to pass soon.  I remember that I was even somewhat concerned, during my MA studies in Boston, that peace would break out before I could return to Israel.  What would we only give to be able to have such concerns nowadays! 


The speeches of Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly might have been the last nails in the coffin of the dream of living side-by-side - if not actually in peace, then at least living without war.  But this does not seem possible any time in the foreseeable future.  Both speeches focused on why I am right/fearful/angry/threatened and why the other side is threatening/thieving/untrustworthy.  From their own perspectives, they were both right.  And with "right" like that, who needs "wrong"?


Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee.  He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and as Chief Instructor (4th Dan) of the Hoshaya Karate Club.  Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. He can be contacted at:


September 2011


file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsraelHamasFatahArab Spring 15 May 2011 5:39 PM
Palestine: How Will She Come Into Being? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The recent agreement in April between Fatah and Hamas has paved the way for Palestinians to act unilaterally, this coming September, to ask the U.N. to declare a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders. By some estimates, Palestinians will receive 140 votes in favor, when only 128 votes will be needed. The only real question that remains is: Will a Palestinian State come into being unilaterally, or as a result of a last minute negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine?


A non-negotiated Palestinian State will pose problems for both Palestinians and Israelis. On the Palestinian side, a state may well be recognized by the international community, but if Israeli settlements remain in place in the West Bank, and if there is an Israeli military presence there, then Palestine will be a state in name only, with no reality or sovereignty to back it up. Palestinians would probably expect that the international community would pressure Israel to dismantle the settlements and to withdraw to the 1967 borders, but such pressure could take years to bring results. In the interim, political tensions between Fatah and Hamas could resurface, as they have in the past, and if a civil war breaks out, then the international community may become far less willing to pressure Israel to comply with U.N. demands.


A non-negotiated Palestinian State would be a problem for Israel as well. The U.N. could declare the new state, based on the 1967 borders, without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, the settlement blocks around Jerusalem, the rights of the refugees, and the decision as to whether Palestine will be militarized. Under such circumstances, Israel would be faced with the reality of a Palestinian State, without having resolved any of the vital issues which have divided the parties for so many years. In addition, if Israel maintains the settlements and her military presence in the West Bank, then she will likely be subject to a growing campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions by the international community, in an effort to delegitimize her, and to pressure her to relent to U.N. demands.


To a certain extent, the Israel/Palestine issue is a microcosm of the Middle East as a whole. The issues which divide these two people may be unique to this particular conflict, but the ideological barriers that keep these two apart are the same kind of barriers which have kept the Middle East trapped in the past, and which have prevented the Middle East from moving forward. The impasse over borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees is deep-seated, not because an equitable solution can't be found, but because the strength of ideological conviction prevents the parties from making the necessary concession to broker a peace. Is it possible, based on current realities on the ground, including the Arab Spring, that ideological intransigence will finally give way to the need to come together, in Israel and Palestine, and throughout the greater Middle East as a whole?


The Middle East, after years of oppressive rule, corruption, and stagnation, is being asked, by the man on the street, to dismantle the old model, in favor of a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. A transition of this sort is a better pill to swallow for those in power who are used to getting their way. In a similar vein, Palestinians and Israelis are being called upon to weaken the hold, to a certain extent, of ideological conviction, and to embrace the possibility that today is a new day, and that the past may no longer be a harbinger of things to come. Today hints of the possibility of fundamental change, of reaching the next stage of human development, and of becoming more than we ever dreamed possible.

file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle EastPalestineIsraelDemonstrations 6 Apr 2011 3:59 PM
Yes or No to Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace between Israel and Palestine is becoming even more important now than ever before. There are, however, forces at work which are pushing the peace process forward, and others which are holding it back.


Both Netanyahu and Abbas are coming under considerable pressure to show some measure of progress on the peace front. Abbas has expressed his intent to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, in September 2011. Presumably, if such recognition were to be given, then a Palestinian state would come into being without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, and the "right of return" of the refugees. If Israel refuses to recognize Palestine, or refuses to cooperate in implementing the U.N. mandate, then Israel could find itself further isolated in the international community, with the resulting calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). And yet, without Israel's cooperation, it is hard to see how a Palestinian state could emerge and become viable.


Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority for that matter, are also under a great deal of pressure to move forward on peace. Fattah, the political faction in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, find themselves vying for power on an existential level. Much of the economic and institutional gains that have been achieved by Fayyad in the West Bank could be undermined by a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Such a takeover is seen by much of the West Bank leadership as a dead end for their aspirations to build a free and prosperous Palestine. The dismal conditions in Gaza do not bode well for a Palestine run by Hamas. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that Abbas sees a peace deal with Israel as something which would give Fattah some measure of credibility in the eyes of his people, and as a way of consolidating political opposition to Hamas. On the other hand, Hamas could easily portray the search for peace as a sign of weakness on the part of Fattah. Alternatively, reconciliation between Fattah and Hamas, which remains unlikely, could lead to a sharing of power, and a more united approach in finalizing a deal with Israel.


The current unrest on the Arab street increases the pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement. No one really knows who in the Middle East will end up assuming the reigns of powers. However, it is more likely than not, at least in some of the Arab countries, that the new leaders will be more responsive to the aspirations of the people. For example, for 30 years Israel could count on Mubarak of Egypt to keep the peace, even a cold peace at that. Now, however, with Mubarak out of the picture, the new leadership will probably take the will of the people more seriously. And if the people demand justice for Palestinians, then Egypt, and other Arab states, will reflect that attitude in their dealings with Israel, and with the West. A peace deal would therefore make relations much easier between Israel and her newly-constituted neighbors, and also between the Middle East and the West.


And of course, much of the West's obsession with the Middle East is about the oil. The free flow of oil is indispensable to Western economies. Therefore, to the extent that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine fulfills the aspirations of the man on the street, and takes away the convenient tool that extremists use to inflame passions, and improves relations between Arab States and the West, then to that extent, the free flow of oil will be assured, and the West can take comfort in being able to run its economic engines.


As if these considerations weren't enough, there is one more reason to push the peace process forward at this particular time. It could well be argued that under the right circumstances, Israel could end up playing a major role in revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs. The people on the street want two things in particular: decent jobs and the freedom to live their lives as they wish. To a great extent, these two noble aspirations are what Israel is all about. As an example, of the three judges who recently convicted President Katzav of rape, two are women, and the chief judge is an Israeli Arab. Where else in the Middle East would such a thing be possible?


Many choose to see Israel as the problem in the Middle East. But in reality, Israel is the solution for the Middle East. Israel has precisely what the Middle East needs. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine will help to neutralize at least some of the hate, and will open the door to allow Israel to partner with her neighbors to revitalize the region consistent with the will of the people.


Therefore, we call upon Netanyahu and Abbas to rise to the occasion and to leave no stone unturned in their quest for peace. No doubt there is a long history of failure in this regard. And no doubt there will be bitter pills to swallow on both sides of this conflict. However, the circumstances on the ground, even as we speak, all point to the possibility of a new beginning, a chance for peaceful co-existence, and the prospects for a new Middle East, where peace, prosperity and freedom reign supreme, and a Vision of Hope is finally allowed to take hold.



file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 22 Aug 2010 9:15 PM
This Time Around, Can We Tip The Balance In Favor Of Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
On the eve of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, we should ask ourselves if this time around we will find a way to work together to tip the balance in favor of peace. Some may say that we've been down this road before; been there, done that. And as we all know, peace has remained an illusory dream at best. But I would not give up so easily. This time around, there may be a good chance to cut a deal, not because the key players love one another, God forbid, but because they face some common existential threats, and they actually need one another to stave off these threats.


A lot is at stake for Israel and Palestine, for the region as a whole, and for the world at large. It is not that the people of the Middle East necessarily care that much about the plight of Palestinians and Israelis. The vast majority don't care, as evidenced by a recent poll. The reason that these talks are important, however, is because a successful outcome could pave the way to a revitalization of the entire Middle East, which would include the creation of good paying jobs, and a realignment of security arrangements in order to contend with the threat of a nuclear Iran. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine could be the seed that grows into a new and vibrant Middle East, a Middle East which is more secure, and which begins to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.


What will a peace deal between Israel and Palestine look like? Surprisingly, that is not so difficult to fathom. Most of the key players know what to expect in this regard. My guess is that the final treaty will probably mirror, in many ways, the proposal made in the year 2000 by President Clinton, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to President Arafat, and would include the following elements: a new Palestinian State, all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, land swaps of Israeli land to offset the large settlement block retained by Israeli, a dismantlement of most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a sharing of Jerusalem in some form or other, compensation by Israel to the refugees, and a very limited right of return for some Palestinians based on humanitarian ground and subject to Israel's approval. The vast majority of Palestinians would have the right to "return" to the new Palestine.


Why would such a deal be cut today, when similar such attempts failed in previous years? Only one reason; because today, the stars are aligning in just the right way, so that the self-interest of each of the key players will push each of them to join forces with one another to stave off some very common existential threats. Look at the whole picture: Fatah in the West Bank is threatened by a Hamas takeover, and may actually need Israel to help meet that challenge. Israel is threatened by a nuclear Iran and may need a peace deal with Palestine to consolidate support for stopping Iran and containing her ambitions for the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the other Sunni states are worried about a nuclear Iran, and about Shiite intentions to disrupt the balance of power in the predominantly Sunni Middle East.


Putting it all together, the mutual self-interests of the key players may begin to point in one direction, and one direction only, whether they like it or not. Israel will cut a deal with Palestine, even if Hamas decides to take a pass. Saudi Arabia and the other Sunnis will use that pretext to recognize Israel and to declare peace with her based on the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Such a declaration could become the impetus for a military/economic alliance in the region which will be used to revitalize the region economically with job creation, and to secure the key players by uniting to keep Iran in check. Ultimately, if everything pans out, and granted it's still a big "if," Iran may think twice about her ambitions when facing a united front consisting of Israel, the U.S., and the Sunni world.


We can think of the peace between Israel and Palestine as a spaceship of sorts. The spaceship will be thrust into space with the help of three booster rockets: the first and most immediate is the need to consolidate security, the second is the need to revitalize the Middle East economically with good paying jobs, and the third is the need to stabilize relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Perhaps these same needs have always been around. However, this time around they have reached a new level of urgency. We have about a year to pull this thing off, before all hell breaks loose, including the ominous decision of whether or not to allow Iran to go nuclear.


Given everything that is at stake, the question becomes: How far are we willing to go, each and every one of us, to maximize the chance for a successful outcome to these upcoming peace talks? Many of us are inclined to leave things to the diplomats and the political leaders. However, the issues are so difficult, and the sensitivities are so heightened, that I strongly doubt that the diplomats, on their own, will be able to cut this deal. They will need help, and even a certain measure of pressure, from the outside, from people like us, to make something happen at the negotiating table.


That's where we come in. Don't underestimate, even for a moment, our power to make things happen. Every one of us, each in his or her own way, can help to move the peace process along. We may or may not particularly care about Israel or Palestine, even though many of us do. But we certainly care about ourselves, and the world we want to leave behind for our children. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we're all in this together, and that we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do what we can for the sake of peace.

file under: Regional RealignmentPalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 11 Jul 2010 3:02 PM
A Knife To Your Throat Concentrates The Mind Posted by Nissim Dahan
Some leaders in the Middle East are facing existential threats, and as we can well imagine, a knife to your throat concentrates the mind. In chemistry an unstable chemical solution seeks a way of stabilizing itself. Could the volatility of the Middle East find a way to stabilize itself in a way that points to the possibility of peace, prosperity, and freedom?


If you look at the varied political landscapes of the Middle East you will begin to see a whole host of hidden dangers lurking in the midst. The Mullahs in Iran, for example, have quite a lot on their plate: an angry citizenry demanding change, a weak economy, the onset of international sanctions, and the looming threat of a military attack. Iran's answer is to pursue nuclear capability, to sponsor terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to forge new alliances with countries such as Turkey, Syria, and perhaps even Iraq. We may soon see an alliance of like-minded countries which have come together to project influence in the region, and to protect themselves from both domestic and international threats.


What will Western countries do in response? They will have no choice but to react. If left unchecked, a political alliance with Iran at its center could easily develop a nuclear capability, and use that as a means of stifling domestic and international dissent, and consolidating control of the entire region. A nuclear capacity will act as a protective shield to protect nations like Iran from any outside interference with regard to domestic policies and foreign policy agendas. The ability to discourage outside interference is precisely why Iran is so hell bent on producing nuclear weapons.


The West will have to react. Too much is at stake including access to oil, as well as the looming threat of a further radicalization of extremist groups. But what can the West do, short of war, to counter the threats posed by an alliance of the more fundamentalist elements in the Middle East?


The West will have to find a way to ally itself militarily and economically with the Sunni world, with countries that see an Iranian backed alliance as equally threatening to them. How can all of this be accomplished? My guess is that we will soon see a peace deal struck between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Fattah in the West Bank is a lot more worried about an Iranian backed Hamas takeover of the West Bank, than it is about Israel. In fact, Israel is probably the only military force in the region that can actually protect the West Bank from such a takeover. And Israel is a lot more worried about a nuclear Iran, allied with Syria and Turkey, than it is about the West Bank Palestinians, who seem fully committed to growing their economy, consolidating their security, and establishing a Palestinian state within the span of two years.


A peace deal struck between Israel and Palestine will reverberate across the region and around the world. New alliances will be forged, and a massive effort will be launched to revitalize the region as a whole, by consolidating security and growing the various economies. Saudi Arabia, for example, along with the other Sunni states, would likely use the Israel/Palestine deal as a pretext to recognize Israel in accordance with the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Egypt and Jordan would likely join in, having already signed peace agreements with Israel, and also facing daunting challenges from within and without, including the possibility that a nuclear Iran could foment internal opposition throughout the Arab world.


And how would Western countries react to a realignment of this sort in the Middle East? The U.S. would probably continue to back Israel, especially as a peace deal is consummated, and would probably lend its support to a military/economic alliance which would counter the Iranian threat, and which would include Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and a great many other Arab states.


Will the realignment of the Middle East into two camps necessarily mean war? In my opinion, not necessarily. If a peace deal is forged between Israel and Palestine, and if such a deal is used as a springboard to revitalize the region economically, and if a military/economic alliance is forged between the Western world and much of the Sunni world, then such a result could actually stabilize the region. The Western/Sunni alliance could conceivably be much more powerful than the Iranian alliance, both in terms of military strength, and economic prosperity. As a result, Iran would have to think twice and maybe three times, before taking on such a powerful opponent. Under such circumstances, a certain sense of stability may ensue.


Eventually, if a Vision of Hope is realized in parts of the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, then countries which may have had no intention of following suit, would likely reconsider their approach in light of increasing domestic pressure. "Hey, where is our share?" the people on the street would ask. In other words, if the military option is no longer on the table, and if terrorism begin to lose its luster, and if there begins to emerge shining lights of success in the Middle East, then everyone in the region will be forced to follow suit, and jump onto the bandwagon of job creation, including: jobs which grow their economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking.


Granted, there are an awful lot of "ifs" in this scenario, and perhaps a healthy dose of wishful thinking to boot. And granted, people emboldened by an ideological agenda often make the wrong choices. But I would argue that there is at least a pretty good chance that things could work out this way. And given the dismal alternative-a mixed fruit salad of death, destruction, and despair-it is a chance we cannot afford to lose.

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