Category Archives: Palestine

Conversation on Statehood

Introduction from OTW

While the Syrian Revolution goes on, the regime blocks communications, loses ground, and the future outlook for Syria, from political point of view keep getting fuzzier by the day, Yesterday’s vote at the UN General Assembly should not go unnoticed. After the vote, I spoke to a friend who has served few years as a UN Diplomat, and below is the essence of our conversation. I decided to write this post after the conversation, and since I was neither taping, nor taking notes, it would be hard for me to separate where my friend stands, and where I do. Overall we shared most of what is being said. I must also state that my friend, while sympathetic to Palestinians, bares no obvious hostility to Israel. Also, and beforehand, I must apologize in advance for the fact that I will not be able to respond to comments as much as I want, but I will try my best to check on frequently enough to respond when I can.

 Now you are a State, what’s next

Statehood vote UNGA

Vote count at the UNGA about Palestinian Statehood

First, it was the United Nations Scientific, Cultural and Education Organization (UNESCO) where Palestine’s statehood was recognized with full membership and now art the UN General Assembly, where Palestine’s statehood is recognized but with an observer status.

UNESCO continues to feel the financial burden due to the US refusing to pay its dues following the historic decision using a law passed from the days of Ronald Reagan as Arab States failed to fill in the budget gaps resulting from the US’s decision. It is unlikely that the US will do any such drastic act with respect to the UN despite of the identical outcome of the vote in the two organizations, which is the recognition of Palestinian statehood.  But it has not stopped some senators from introducing an amendment to the defense act in  an attempt to punish both Palestine and the UN. Republican Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), and Inhofe (R-OK) introduced an amendment that will cut 50%  of the total U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority and  to any U.N. entity that grants the Palestinians a status change and reduces by 20%  U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change. Judging by the results of the cut of funds for UNESCO, this will not help, but will make it harder for the US to implement most of its aid program, which has historically been far more effective in spreading American values than the US army. If this amendment passes, it will further erode the US’s own capacity for diplomacy. In the end, it will perhaps be a loss for Israel more than for the US because Israel needs the world’s goodwill towards the US and the US’s ability to rightfully use its aid program to influence political decisions at the world’s stage, which is being eroded by such bills.  The world has long ago recognized the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. It is now recognizing that it is time that such happens and that the state is not threatened with the continuing expansion of settlements, which is frowned upon by most of the world including some in Israel. Time for Israel’s friends in the US to act like friends of Israel and not friends of a minority of Israelis.

What the two decisions say, especially the UNGA decision, which  passed with overwhelming majority (138 to 9), as well as a sizable abstention (41), is that the world no longer accepts excuses to delay the full independence and sovereignty of Palestine and the final status negotiation. The Israeli Ambassador at the UN was far more diplomatic and cultured than his counterpart at UNESCO, who nearly two years ago was impolite, lecturing, and arrogant. In his Yesterday’s speech, he attempted a last line of defense appeal, using an argument many countries have already sympathized with (the right of the Jewish People to their own state), but failing to present a strong argument as to how that right would be threatened by recognition of Palestinian statehood. The other argument, which states that such recognition will derail the peace process sounded insincere coming from the representative of a government that bears the primary responsibility for the painful prolonging of  a seemingly endless peace process, followed, and nearly equaled in responsibility, as we now know, by those calling themselves the resistance camp who now stand to lose a lot as the Palestinians no longer need said camp’s political support having discovered, once more that the majority of the world countries stands with their right, and that the world is far more supportive of their mature political approach to their cause. The speech by the US Ambassador was noteworthy in its attempts to show compassion with the Palestinians, and yet hinder their ability to stand as equal party in the negotiation regarding permanent status. The world disagreed with the US, and that is the end of it. However, there remains one correction to be mentioned, yesterday’s action was not a unilateral one as the US ambassador said, it was a near-global action telling the US, sorry, but we don’t see it that way. That said, the US Ambassador, once more reaffirmed the US Administration’s conviction of the right of Palestinians to have their own state, and to live secure in their state, and the intent of the US to work towards that goal, albeit from a perspective that is more beholden to Israel’s security than to the rights of the Palestinians. Anyone denying that would not be objective.

UNESCO’s charter emphasizes peace and cooperation, admitting Palestine to UNESCO means that the state adheres to these principles and that fellow member states have enough reasons to believe that the state’s application is sincere in doing so. The more significant UN charter emphasizes the rights of citizens of states to live secure within their border.  Palestine’s application to observer status affirms acceptance of that Charter, which is an important global diplomatic gain. Granted, states have violated that charter numerous times. Every car bomb that went off in Iraq, sponsored by Damascus thugs was violation, every rocket lobbed at Israel was a violation, and every air-raid on Lebanon or Gaza, bus explosion in Israeli towns, and predator assassination of Palestinian leaders, are also violations of that. But there is a difference between state and non-state actors. Now that Palestine’s statehood is no longer a question, both sides will have to deal with this issue, and attempts to sponsor non state actor in Palestine can easily be viewed by the world community as violation of Palestinian sovereignty and not as affirmation of their rights to resistance. There is a silver lining in the decision for Israel if the Israeli government was not so obsessed with the expansionist greed of a minority of the country’s citizens and the remnants of the long standing policy of denying Palestine and Palestinians. Both Israel and Palestine are now obliged to deal with each other as states, at least theoretically.

OTW’s own conclusion

Yesterday’s vote pulled the rug from under the feet of the Israeli government and the expansionist settlers. Yet, what is far more significant to me is that it did pull the rug from under the feet of those in the defunct resistance camp. The Palestinians can now tell their story, on their own, and even as observers, they may not have the right to vote, but they do have the right to make interventions, submit resolution, with the support of full member states, many of whom proved that they can be friends to both Palestine and Israel and become closer than ever to ending tyrannical regime’s cynical attempts to use them as passive tools in suppressing their own people. In that regard, the vote was victory for both Palestine and for free Syrians. Congratulation Palestine, congratulations free Syria, you are no longer burdened with attempting to use Palestinians, and now you can really support them by finishing off yet another obstacle to peace, and one of their most vicious abusers, the tyrannical Assad regime.

Topics from the Syrian Revolution. By hazrid

I’d like to start this 3178-word Mega-comment by refuting everything said by True about sentiments towards Palestinians in Damascus, with no offense to True intended; I’m not in the messenger-shooting business.

Jibril (Pro-Assad General Command) depicted in a wanted poster on Facebook

I have never, ever heard a single anti-Palestinian slogan at any of the protests I have attended, nor have I heard any anti-Palestinian slogans in any of the videos on the web,  and I extend this statement to  clearly sectarian slogans in the same vein. To some extent, relations with the Palestinian community have been affected by the revolution, with the pro-regime groups such as the General Command (القيادة العامة : أحمد جبريل) and Al-Sa’aeqa (الصاعقة) being pitted against everybody else. Yes, the regime finally succeeded in unifying the Palestinians. After the attacks on the Palestinian protest by GC in Yarmouk camp, which happened soon after the attempts to enter the Golan, I have heard Palestinians aligned with Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and various others swear up and down that they will do a multitude of unspeakable things to Ahmed Jibreel, none of which I will detail here. The Palestinians are generally with the revolution, and the revolution (at least that is the sentiment here, in the Damascus area) is with the Palestinians.

The Veto Power

I’m Going to do something controversial here and explain one view regarding  ‘veto’ concept within the UNSC. Please don’t be too harsh on me.

A long, long time ago, the world was a bloody place. Much more bloodier than it is today. We all recall tales of the great empires of old, and the greater empires of not-so-old. All these great empires had penchant for going at each other. The Persians and the Romans, the English and the French, the Ottomans and the Safavids, and countless others.

Often, we would see wars break out at the slightest provocation. Granted, killing a Serbian prince in itself isn’t going to cause a war to end all wars, but sometimes, many times, it can be a sufficient fuse. What is different in our modern world is the lack of great wars. We haven’t seen super-powers duke it out, not since the Second World War. This is, I think because of two reasons:

  1. We talk. Imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis without communications between the US and the USSR, or without a forum like the UN.
  2. Superpowers can bugger with each other without going to war

The second point is basically Veto rights. The legal structure of the UN, and the rules and restrictions placed on war-making within the structure mean that nation-states need to go through various acrobatic acts before they can proactively go to war.

Imagine if Syria was a major strategic asset for Russia, one that the Russians would be willing to go to war over. Imagine Russia not having veto power in such a situation.

To understand veto rights, one must think outside the ‘favoritism’ mentality. The nations that were given these rights at the formation of the UN have been the largest military powers since the late 1940s. A veto is a diplomatic tool that allows one of these nations to defend its interests, rightly or wrongly so, in a way that does not involve military action. This is one of the main reasons the world hasn’t seen two superpowers colliding in a military conflict. The (relatively) little things they used to go to war over are now vetoed into lower intensity.

With that said, Veto powers never were a good idea, and I disagree with the concept.

On the subject of the Russian, and to a lesser extent Chinese position… It is one that brings up many conspiracy theories. One thing that has been clear is that the Russians are intelligent about their foreign policy, and have a tendency to support their allies (even the wacky genocidal ones) to the hilt. Once things go past the hilt though, and all that support is gone. Two examples come to mind here: the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, which ended with an under the table deal between the USSR and the USA that left Cuba out in the cold and Castro swearing with the ferocious rage of someone who just learnt about the realities of Superpower diplomacy, and the Serbian example everybody is talking about.

It isn’t clear though what the Russians see in Syria. True, there is a small naval base in Tartous, but it isn’t one that can be considered of any use in any conflicts it might be needed in other than as a weak retardant, at least for the next few years. Expanded, it might play a role in defending Russia’s assets and allies throughout the wider region, including The Mediterranean region, the Black Sea, the Gulf and the east coast of Africa, but that will take many years to happen.

There is also the Russian fear of similar ‘intervention’ happening on its grounds or much closer to home, but the Libya situation should show them that such action will happen regardless of what the Russians want when the Europeans and Americans put their minds to it, and the Russians do realize that the US is very hesitant in engaging directly in the Russian sphere of influence, as was clear in Georgia, when the Russians Decimated a relatively important NATO ally without any real western resistance.

What seems to me to be the dominant factor in Russian thinking now is the domino effect. The revolution is part of a long line of dominoes around the world, which include demonstrations in the west such as the Spain demonstrations last year, and the greater Occupy movement, as well as the other Arab revolutions. It is conceivable that these revolutions will spread to more regions considered pro-Russian. Prime locations, other than Iran would be the Caucus and Balkans regions, the Asian Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan, and to Russia itself. It is also clear that once, and if Revolts spread to these regions, some if not most will be supported directly by a large body of Arab revolutionaries, and directly and indirectly by Powers That Care (PTCs). Historically, this has happened as is evident in the Arab Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Arab support in the various Yugoslav conflicts, and the Arabs in Chechnya. Really, we’re more international than the Americans in our conflicts.

Defection and the FSA 

What we must understand is that the defectors are, at the same level, are reacting in a manner consistent with what we all saw in Egypt most recently, and in places such as Romania and to a lesser extent Tunisia previously. The only difference is that while the decision to defect was taken by the highest echelons of military command in the aforementioned cases, here in Syria we have a complacent and criminal high command that is in the end, part of the cult-leadership. This in turn caused people much lower in the chain of command to take personal initiatives based on their moral ideals. Initially, the FSA focused on defending protests. The reason that large-scale protests such as the ones we see in Homs before the invasion, and the Suburbs of Damascus is because off camera, there are FSA soldiers on the rooftops defending the protesters from any Assadist attack. Later on, the FSA grew in confidence, to a point where it started engaging the military in offensive action. Sometimes, these attacks have had an adverse effect on the FSA in the short-term or long-term, such as the recent offensive on the eastern Ghouta, which has unearthed a lot of inefficiencies in the FSA, and a lot of things that need sorting out.

In short, these guys have acted as a military force with some sense of professionalism. They have acted as a sponge for any civilians who might feel the need to bear arms, which is an important function as it forces these civilians who will inevitably appear in any such situation to act within a framework that isn’t a local-militia framework. They have isolated themselves from political action on all levels, which is in all ways a good sign. They have refrained from engaging in fights over petty disputes, regardless of the tensions that do exist on the ground between commanders, and at the higher levels, especially with Colonel Riad Al-Ass’ad or however it must be spelt. They have not isolated themselves from the populace in most instances, which is also a good sign.

There have been difficulties. The inability to use heavy weapons, and lack of effective counters to these weapons (which for some reason, Khalid Tlass, in his third incarnation isn’t so vocally lobbying for). The near impossibility of getting weapons in from across the borders, especially with the Jordanian gov’t trying to put a stranglehold on all weapons going through its borders, Hezbullah’s effective cornering of the arms market in Lebanon early in the revolution, and the shoring up of the Iraqi border by the Malki Government. I’d also like to call out the Muslim Brotherhood, who have been going on a membership drive, forcing activists and FSA members to swear allegiance to the MB before receiving a penny of support from the Brotherhood. Yeah, this is gonna be interesting in the long-term.

My point is, and this is mainly addressed to Zenoubia, your plan won’t work, under current circumstances. The Regime hasn’t shied away from assassinating any leaders who might be a threat to it, in fact, they’ve been doing it from the start, starting with Alawite military leaders back when Hafez took over, up to people who look like they might be leading the chants on the ground, such as happened in Midan during Rammadan. This has been one of their cornerstone policies, to kill anybody who might have any semblance of leadership skills or charisma. Tell me, do you know any ‘leaders’ of the Alawite sect whose sur-name isn’t Assad? They existed before 1982. Do you know any labor or union leaders who are in any way prominent? Parliamentarians? Heck, even government officials who might be slightly non-Baathist. I could think of Dardari who was always critical of the government, at least economically. Look where he is now. In Syria, prominence is a death sentence. Become too prominent, and you have sentenced your whole family, nay, your whole community to disfavor, if not annihilation. But then, you are asking of Syrians something that has been refused by all other Peoples who have been put under similar situations. Look at Egypt, Hosni only wanted to stay until the September elections in the end, and the protesters refused. Give these people time to pack their bags, and they will use that time to rob the country of everything that isn’t nailed down, then go for the stuff with the weakest nails. Believe me when I say this, in Zabadani, the Assadist forces have looted villas even of their door frames. Yes, door frames. This is how kleptomaniacal the regime is. In Egypt, the situation was a lot easier and simple than it is here. It was clear that Hosni was not going to be allowed to stay by the military, and there wasn’t as much violence, nor as much blood. Please note, a lot of people have much at stake here. It is clear that if the regime is given any breathing space, in any form, it will go on a cleansing campaign against all FSA members, all the people in the LCCs, anybody who as much as raised a finger to help a wounded protester.

And then you have the whole post-election. What then? We went the whole nine yards, proven our pre-proven thesis true, and the regime has not handed over power because it is clear, that whatever happens, the name of the game is Don’t Hand Over Power To The Masses. Is the international community going to come and save our souls, like it didn’t in Iran, and like it resoundingly didn’t in Burma? Are we going to protest peacefully, maybe do a sit-in like the one that happened in Clock Tower Square, or Tiananmen? Or are we going to bear arms against a regime military that will be much, much more prepared? What comes after the elections?

Please note, that the FSA has the most legitimacy out of any opposition group in the eyes of the people on the ground. This is because they are the epitome of counter-Assadist-culture… Let me explain:

This will sound sexist, I apologize. I’ve previously mentioned that the regime isn’t the window dressing called the cabinet, headed by the prime-minister. It’s the extended family and cronies who control the Mukhabarat and to a lesser extent the army. To understand the administrative/bureaucratic environment this group has nurtured, grown, and grown from, one has to run the gauntlet only Syrian males with brothers, and a few unfortunate women do. It is called dealing with the army.

For most men, their first encounter with the army is when they go to create their army book. One does not truly know how debilitating, stupid, backwards, solidified, idiotic, neurotic, resentful, corrupt, nepotic, authoritarian, dictatorial, stupid, ignorant, stupid, bureaucratic, banal, inefficient, careless, dirty, uncreative, kleptomaniac, sectarian and stupid the regime can be until you have created your army book. If you’ve tried to pay the Badal, it is an even better learning experience.

Imagine a system where each person you have to deal with declares their price before servicing you, or even has their price written down on a chart to simplify the process, and EVERYBODY has a price you must pay. Imagine a system where you can be trapped in a requirement-circle that has you going from desk, to desk, to desk with each person referring you to someone else for reasons you can’t ask, lest you know about the arcane secrets of the military’s conscription offices. Imagine mistakes made by office clerks that could ruin your life, put you in jail, or have you paying huge fines, and these mistakes happen all the time! Imagine going through a process with no known end. Imagine getting to that end, only to find out that there is some minor detail that is wrong, and you have to do everything all over again. Imagine trying to tell an officer with the brain of a goose, the skull of a moose and the psyche of a rat that he might have made a tiny mistake in processing your documents, only for him to slap you and tell you he’ll shoot you the next time he sees you in his office. Imagine being told you haven’t processed your documents, or that yes, they know they processed your documents and that everything is good in them, but they lost them because some rat of fate had to choose your file in the archives to make its nest, and thusly, the rat has pressed you into conscription even though you’ve done ta’ajeel dirasi. Yes this has happened.

Now imagine the people at the head of such an apparatus. Imagine how they think, how they managed to create such a monstrosity, how they may have fought to keep the cleansing acids of reforms away from their growing hell-beast, how they grew it and in turn grew from it. These are the people we are dealing with. And these are the people who the FSA have turned away from. They have taken everything these devils have built, and refused to indulge or be complicit in it. They are the embodiment of the opposite of dealing with the army. They are the only white knights most anti-regime young Syrian men see in a sea of uncertain and gloomy darkness, where the world stood silent with its trillions of dollars of arms, they came with their AKs and RPGs to defend them from the military behemoth of despair. I hope you now understand why people see the FSA as central to this revolution, regardless of its many flaws.

SWOT Analysis Proposal

It looks like everybody left the SWOT analysis post, so I’m going to post my two cents here: After some thinking, a crude suggestion has formulated itself. First of all, we might be better off doing multiple SWOTs, one for each player. Defining each player will be the difficult part, as in multiple cases it isn’t clear where lines should be drawn for each group, among other things. Each SWOT analysis should be curated by one person who is tasked with the management and verification of the information going into their SWOT, as well as understanding the actual process itself. The comment section of a blog post isn’t really the best place for such discussions, as it lacks many tools to make things easier. I would suggest something like Crabgrass (made by the Riseup collective) or Asana, as well as other software, maybe a CMS or a wiki? I’m sure that specialized software for this stuff exists.

Participation in most SWOTs should be open, and the main person responsible for managing  each one is the curator of that SWOT.

SNC site is up, and they seem to have a project in the works called ‘One Thousand Years for Syria’. The idea is for volunteers to sign up one year of work for Syria in their respective fields of expertise after the revolution is finished, and it is an applause-worthy program. This is the sort of stuff the SNC, in my opinion, should be focusing on. Not trying to cuddle up to the west, and isolate Iran, Russia, Hezbullah and Hamas. Optimally, the Swot analysis should be hosted by the SNC, and so far the only good thing I’ve seen coming out of its activities alone is a severe mistrust and dislike now ingrained into every Syrian’s mind towards all politicians, post revolution.

Since I’ve gone into SNC-Bashing mode again (It’s addictive), I’d like to point them towards the Libya Rebuilding Taskforce, which was a seventy strong team of Libyan experts in various fields based in Dubai that was tasked with formulating what the LTC should do after capturing all of Libya. Rebuilding, infrastructure, policing, electricity and water supplies, stuff like that. Mr. Bourhan: I know the deep deep corridors of politicking are a trap for any politician with good intentions, but you are not a politician, you are an opposition figurehead for all of Syria. More of this stuff will show us that the post-Bashar political scene will be less like Lebanon, which the SNC is emulating within itself right now and more like the UK, where politics is (mostly) about policy, nation development is debated by people who care and decisions (mostly) are made based on facts (mostly), studies, research, and inquiries not by bigoted politicians on testosterone fueled vendettas and criminal enterprises. And you know what, initiatives like that, if crowdsourced, can really make Syrians feel like tomorrow’s Syria will be a different place, as if their intellect, creativity, knowledge and patriotic feelings will be felt by those on top, having a positive effect on the decision-making process, and the country as a whole. Market that, not foreign intervention.

Note from OTW: This post first appeared as a comment from hazrid on 7ee6an (here). It elicited a response from  Zenobia (here) and further narrative elaboration on the corruption in the regime’s army from  Sheila (here)  as well as from Zenobia (here), and on the self imposed exile of MGB (here)

Olives, Ironies, and civil war

On Jan, 5, 2011, Subhi Hadidi, a journalist termed by many in the opposition, including myself, as a moral compass for being fiercely independent in his criticism of the Syrian regime, published an article in the London based Pan Arab newspaper Alquds Alarabi about the cornerstone of the Syrian regime and its evolution during the past 10 month. The article’s introduction describes the intent of Adanan Alsukhbi, the regime’s governor of the Raqqa governorate of Syria to uproot the 15 years old olive trees planted on the private farm of activist lawyer Abduallah Al-Khalil after Assad’s militias destruction of the the lawyer’s house.  One of two trees mentioned in the Quran (fig and olive), and a universal symbol of peace, olive trees are both mystical and semi-sacred.  And uprooting olive trees, next to home demolition, has been a constant presence in Arab memory ever since it has been practiced by Israeli settlers and IDF soldiers be it as collective and individual punishment of Palestinians, pre-confiscation action, or part of the controversial and illegal price-tag policy exacted by extremist settlers against both the Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

It was an epic irony that, in his forth speech since the uprising started, and while the issue of uprooting olive trees in Raqqa, being fresh, and with Bashar Al-Assad being dubbed by many Syrians as having presided over the killing of more Syrians than double the number of Lebanese and Palestinians killed through the two most recent actions of Israel’s forces, and right after berating “certain” Arab countries and the Arab League as betrayers of Arabism (Urooba), chose, with pride, Syria’s rank as the fifth country in producing olives and olive-oil as one of the fundamental strengths of Syria that he hoped will get Syria through the isolation his regime has put the country through. It goes without saying that farmers and refugees from Jabal Alzzaweyah and Idlib region, have also described Assad’s forces scorched earth policy of uprooting and burning ancient olive trees in this region, which is responsible for a majority of Syria’s high quality olives and olive oil. Needless to say, Syrians have been talking loudly about the fact that the number of victims of the Assads’ forty one year reign of terror already exceeds the numbers of Syrians who lost their lives in the multiple wars with the enemy the regime is supposed to protect Syria from. Read the rest of this entry

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