Category Archives: Middle East

Why Jerusalem matters

800px-israel-201328229-aerial-jerusalem-temple_mount-temple_mount_28south_exposure29

Today President Trump made the United States the first country to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jerusalem, of course, has been controlled by Israel in its entirety since 1967, and West Jerusalem has been administered by Israel since 1948. Israel itself is adamant that the undivided city will remain its capital. And yet, this decision could be one of the most destructive Trump has taken since coming to office. So how did this become such a debate, and why is this such a bad decision?

How did we get here?

 

 

Israel’s formation in 1948 was a messy affair which I won’t get into here, and it involved injustices on all sides. Jerusalem was just one issue. The UN has resolved that it should be a ‘corpus seperatum’ – a fancy word for a city that was neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but a holy place that should be internationally administered. However, in the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab states, Israel took West Jerusalem, and Jordan the East – the section which includes the Old City and some of the holiest sites to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Neither of these actions was legal under international law, and neither was recognised.

800px-jerusalemeastandwest

Then, in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel took East Jerusalem as well, and immediately began treating the city as a reunited capital. The annexation was condemned by the UN Security Council, and has never been recognised by any state. The UN and all member states consider the status of all of Jerusalem an issue to be solved in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. All states have their embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem, as that would imply recognition.

 

In 1995 though, the US Senate decided to get involved, so they passed a resolution that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that the US embassy should be moved there. Every president since has postponed moving the embassy every six months, as the resolution allows, and have not officially recognised it as the capital. Now, however, Trump has thrown this out the window. So why is this such a huge issue?

1. It cripples the chances for peace

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most difficult issues preventing peace between Israel and Palestine. It’s generally assumed that, in broad strokes, West Jerusalem could  become part of Israel, and East Jerusalem in some form the capital of Palestine, though the Israelis dispute this. However, an exact division always been an issue that would be up for discussion in a final settlement. The US siding with Israel makes a compromise far more difficult

2. It means the US can never again be an effective mediator in regional conflicts

For decades the US has tried to play a mediating role between Israel and Palestine – with not too much success. Despite the fact that the US is Israel’s strongest ally, in general they could at least present themselves as a fairly neutral partner in negotiations. However, by taking Israel’s side on such a vital matter to both sides, and in a way that no other country has, it will be almost impossible for the Palestinians to ever take them seriously again. Arab countries too will be infuriated – this is going to further damage the US’s position in the region.

3. It hurts the US’s relations with the world

The Trump presidency has not exactly been a success for the US on the world stage, with trust in the US plummeting. By rejecting a position that the UN and entire world have taken, Trump yet again shows that his administration is not interested in engaging productively with others. The idea that you cannot annex territory that you conquer in a war is so key to the way states interact – just look at how few states have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea. For the US to recognise Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem weakens their position in every way.

4. It’s being done for stupid reasons

Let’s be honest, does anyone think Trump has deeply held positions on the status of Jerusalem? He did this because the evangelical conservative base of his party wants to see it happen, and he could do with a boost in the polls. The idea that this will somehow “advance the peace process” is a joke – the Palestinians are hardly going to roll over and accept that Jerusalem is no longer up for discussion.

This is a decision no one agrees with, and that will help no one except the right-wingers in Israel and the United States. The days ahead will already show whether the reaction is as bad as I expect, but it’s already another confirmation that when you elect a terrible person president, you get terrible policy.

 

Advertisements

Will the Syria ceasefire stick?

On Saturday the first widespread negotiated ‘cessation of hostilities’ started in Syria, and a day later it is still in place despite some violations – already a small victory. The deal has been brokered and supported by the US and Russia, two of the most powerful backers on each side of the conflict, and the UN has also backed it with a resolution. So what are the chances this ceasefire will succeed?

Here’s some background on Russian and American efforts in Syria, and for more info on Islamic State, see here. Continue reading

Russia jet downed in Syria – 3 scenarios

This morning the worst fears of many came true – a Russian fighter jet was shot down by NATO forces at the Syrian border. What exactly happened to the jet is not entirely clear. According to Turkey, it was shot down by their fighters in Turkish airspace after being warned numerous times. According to Russia, it was shot down 4km inside Syrian territory. Most indications are, however, that the Russian jet was inside Turkish territory for a very short time, and was leaving when shot down.

While the pilots managed to bail out, they apparently landed within rebel territory in Syria, and one rebel group has posted footage allegedly showing that one of the pilots was dead when he hit the ground. President Putin has already responded, calling it “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists”, and saying there will be serious consequences for the relationship with Turkey. So what will happen next? Here are a few scenarios: Continue reading

Terror in Paris – two responses

Over the last few days it’s been hard not to think about Paris. I heard about the attacks in Oxford, in the evening after a gala hosted by the Oxford Model United Nations conference. When the news came through that over a hundred were dead and that Paris was in lockdown, the joy slipped out of the room. As removed from the events as we were, we were horrified, lacking words for a response. That’s still the way I feel now about the actual shootings. Just like after the Peshawar school shooting, it’s impossible to understand the sheer hatred, the cult-like dedication, that can bring someone to execute 19 people at a café, or 89 people enjoying a concert. It’s so far removed from war, from politics, from a cause, that you just can’t get a grip on it, on the violence of the act.

1920px-national_gallery_london_in_french_flag_colours_after_paris_attack_282303161768129In the aftermath as well, it feels like this time is different. There’s still the expressions of solidarity and of “we are not afraid”, but they seem a little empty. This could have been absolutely any one of us. People across Europe are scared, and it’s hard to just say “that’s what the terrorists want”. Well, this time they’ve succeeded.

The reaction in France this time is not one of peaceful marches, but one of war. Hollande has declared war on Islamic State – whatever that may mean – and it is looking like it will actually make a difference to their policy. This, together with the recent bombing of the Russian Metrojet in the Sinai, may finally line up the West and Russia on the same page. Assad can wait – Islamic State must be destroyed.

And while I still fully stand behind the idea that only tolerance and inclusion can defeat the ideology of terror, the response to IS itself must be one of full on confrontation. There can be no doubt that they pose a significant and direct threat to not only the Middle East (which has been obvious for years), but to the West and to Russia. When 129 people are massacred in a European capital in the name of a self-proclaimed state, mere calls for tolerance will not suffice.

At the same time though, continuing respect for and inclusion of Muslims is incredibly important, both practically and morally. They have absolutely nothing to do with this, and any response must not be aimed at them. It is too easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in anti-Muslim sentiment, and we must make the right distinction between Muslims and the group which perverts and twists their faith. It is an organization despised by almost everyone, with nothing to offer the world but hate. Again, for them, there can be no tolerance.

Destroying Islamic State by no means easy, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog. But the events in Paris make painfully clear how quickly the cost of letting the Syrian Civil War run on can spread across the world. There are few good answers to the situation in Iraq and Syria, but the West must truly engage in helping to bring peace to these states, not just bombing them, no matter how complex this will be. If the killings in Paris can help eventually bring an end to one of the worst wars of the 21st century, maybe some good can come out of this evil.

I might significantly revise my opinion on some of this in the coming days and weeks, but this is what I’m thinking now. Besides, it’s always useful to get ideas out of my head and on to paper.

Superpowers in Syria – What are Russia and the US doing?

As the years go by, the war in Syria has taken on more and more of the characteristics of a proxy war, where Iran’s ally Assad fights it out against Gulf State supported militants. However, the situation is now becoming even more complicated. Over the last year the US has become directly involved, though they’re currently only targeting the Islamic State. And over the last weeks increasing reports have come out that Russia is stepping up its support for Assad, sending more shipments arms, and even looking ready to start operating an airbase. So what are these two superpowers trying to achieve? And how are they going about it? Continue reading

Israel and one US Presidential hopeful

Today I want to take a look at a few statements Mike Huckabee made over the weekend about his position on Israel. These statements are important because he is running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, the most powerful office in the world. While he might not be the frontrunner, his positions on Israel and Palestine are a sign of how the Republicans are becoming steadily more one sided on this issue – one that will be a huge talking point in the upcoming candidate debates. Continue reading

Islamic State strikes back

After a few months in which it seemed that the Islamic State was on the back foot, one week has shaken things up all over again. IS scored two of its biggest victories since taking over Mosul last year, seizing first the Iraqi city of Ramadi, then the Syrian city of Palmyra, and finally the last border crossing between Iraq and Syria they still didn’t control. So why are these cities so important? What will the effect be on Iraq and Syria? And what does this mean for the US’s strategy? Continue reading