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Why would Israel spy on Donald Trump?

Electronic Intifada - Fri, 09/13/2019 - 3:42pm

Despite denials, there’s plenty of evidence Israel spies on Americans.

Campaigners seek new law on violence against Palestinian women

Electronic Intifada - Fri, 09/13/2019 - 2:49pm
Protests following Israa Gharib's death reflect growing anger about gender-related crime.

The View from Syria’s Peace Talks

Foreign Policy in Focus - Fri, 09/13/2019 - 10:54am

Shutterstock

Eight years since its inception in 2011, the Syrian civil war rages on, a conflict that has taken on grand geopolitical dimensions and resulted in tens of thousands killed and a massive exodus of refugees. While other tensions and conflicts around the world have since grabbed the attention of major media outlets, the situation in Syria has not gotten any better. If anything, it has become even more complicated and violent.

As war rages on, so do attempts to peacefully solve this conflict. Case in point, the Republic of Kazakhstan has hosted over a dozen rounds of peace talks among the numerous warring factions in Syria. While there has been no lasting peace yet, good intentions do matter.

The latest military operations include a coordinated effort between Syrian forces, backed by Russian troops, in the rebel-held northern Idlib province. The goal is to attack three rebel movements: the National Liberation Front, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and Jaysh al-Izza. Though embattled, these groups are far from weak — on August 15, HTS claimed that it shot down a Syrian warplane

Meanwhile, ISIS, after suffering dramatic defeats in Iraq and Syria, is reportedly regrouping in the wake of the U.S. drawdown, and in mid-August carried out an attack against the Syrian Arab Army in Deir Ezzor.  

Despite the U.S. pullback, the U.S. and Turkey continue to cooperate along the Turkish-Syrian border, including by creating a “a joint operations center to oversee the creation of a ‘peace corridor’” in early August. The future of the Kurds in the region is a sensitive issue for the two governments, particularly Ankara.

Kazakhstan first hosted a round of peace talks back in January 2017. The most recent round — the 13th — took place this past August 1-2, with the next talks scheduled for October. The Astana Peace process is meant to be a complement to the parallel Geneva process, while a third branch of negotiations was started by Russia, which hosted a Congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi in January 2018. 

While no overarching peace deal has been achieved, the Astana Process has focused on smaller goals. For example, the 12th round, which took place in April, focused on the situation in northeast Syria and the release of prisoners. 

The most recent round primarily discussed the situation in Idlib province. As UN relief chief and Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock explains, “our worst fears are materializing…Yet again innocent civilians are paying the price for the political failure to stop the violence and do what is demanded under international law — to protect all civilians.” 

Hence, “the most significant gain [from the Astana talks was] secured during the first day of talks, with the announcement that Russia and the regime’s bombardment of Idlib would be halted, allowing Turkey an opportunity to marshal its forces in the area,” wrote The Arab Weekly at the time. Sadly, while the cease-fire that was agreed upon in Kazakhstan was an important achievement, it was short-lived, as violence in the area has resumed.

Also noteworthy about the August talks was the inclusion, for the first time, of observers from Iraq and Lebanon.   

Another important initiative under the umbrella of the Astana Peace Process and the Sochi conference, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reports, is the “formation of a commission to develop recommendations to amend the Syrian constitution.” Kazakhstan has eagerly supported this commission, but there has been little development — the parties cannot agree on who will constitute the membership. Meanwhile, the violence continues. 

As The Arab Weekly also explained, although the “results from the 13th round of Astana talks on Syria were limited,” all parties “expressed satisfaction towards establishing a constitutional committee.”

The guarantors of the Astana peace process — Iran, Russia, and Turkey — released a statement after the 13th round. The declaration, the Kazakh foreign ministry said, “reaffirmed the determination to continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL.” 

Finally, the recent negotiations also discussed the release of detainees and abductees, with the guarantors praising the Astana working group on this issue as a “unique mechanism that had proved to be effective and necessary for building confidence between the Syrian parties.”

The Syrian conflict remains massively complex. It combines a despotic, authoritarian regime, Islamic fundamentalists and other militant factions, an ethnic group at odds with a neighboring NATO power (that’s the Kurds and Turkey), Iran, and the interests of two global superpowers (Russia and the United States). At the time of this writing, there is little reason to hope for a solution to this conflict in the near future, whether it be via further violence or peace negotiations. 

Kazakhstan has taken on a herculean task, though the country is no stranger to attempting to serve as a mediator. For example, in 2013 the country hosted a round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The Kazakhstani city of Aktau is also the location where the five Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) agreed in 2018 to find a solution regarding a territorial dispute over the Caspian Sea. 

Unfortunately, the interests and objectives of regional actors in Syria, not to mention global superpowers, prevents any easy resolution to this conflict. Nevertheless, it is important to continue trying to find some kind of peaceful outcome, if that can prevent further violence and loss of innocent lives. 

Kazakhstan’s ongoing interest in holding talks are commendable. Peace does not come easy, least of all in a geopolitically complex conflict like Syria. But it is important to keep trying.

 

The post The View from Syria’s Peace Talks appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

There'll be no peace in the valley

Electronic Intifada - Fri, 09/13/2019 - 5:52am
Will a West Bank annexation prove the final straw for the Palestinian Authority?

Canada's main parties get failing grades on Palestine

Electronic Intifada - Fri, 09/13/2019 - 1:09am

Liberals and Conservatives “most extreme” in opposing boycott of Israel.

A clean energy scheme to entrench a dirty occupation

Electronic Intifada - Thu, 09/12/2019 - 11:20am

Israeli company suing human rights group for investigating Golan Heights wind farm.

Justin Trudeau backs Israeli settlement wines

Electronic Intifada - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 4:24pm

Canada discriminates against Palestinian beer and wine.

War criminals get easy ride from top Israeli reporter

Electronic Intifada - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 3:42pm

Journalists serve as stenographers to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hong Kong and the Future of China

Foreign Policy in Focus - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 2:57pm

Hong Kong protests, June 2019 (Shutterstock)

Something didn’t quite add up.

This past weekend, protestors were rallying outside the American embassy in Hong Kong. They were waving American flags. They were singing The Star-Spangled Banner. One 24-year-old protester wore a red Make America Great Again hat. Some signs at the protest read “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”

“The Chinese government is breaking their promises to give freedom and human rights to Hong Kong,” the MAGA cap-wearer said. “We want to use the U.S. to push China to do what they promised over 20 years ago.” 

First of all, the Trump administration cares not a whit about human rights. It’s not about to “liberate” Hong Kong any more than it was going to “liberate” the Rohingyas, the Venezuelans, the Iranians, or the Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province for that matter. With John Bolton now banished from the White House, the prospect of any kind of U.S. intervention has become even more remote.

Trump has called the protests “riots,” echoing Beijing’s rhetoric. He’s worried publicly that they are distracting from trade negotiations. MAGA hat aside, the U.S. president probably sees in the demonstrations a reflection of anti-Trump protests throughout the United States (and the world). Also, despite the trade war with Beijing, Trump has a fondness for Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He has even praised Xi’s handling of the crisis (though he has also suggested the Xi meet the protestors to resolve the crisis).

The protesters have a better chance of appealing to the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are currently considering the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would allow Washington to impose sanctions on Mainland and Hong Kong officials who violate human rights and undermine the territory’s sovereignty. Even if it survives a Trump veto, however, the bill would not prevent Beijing from doing what it considers necessary.

Which brings us to the other half of the protester’s claim: that China promised freedom and human rights to Hong Kong in 1997 when it took control of the entrepot from the British. Actually, Beijing promised “one country, two systems.” It promised “a high degree of autonomy.” As for freedom and human rights, that was up to the residents of Hong Kong to secure for themselves. 

Which, of course, is what the protesters have been doing.

Two versions of the future have been on display in Hong Kong over the summer. In one version, the people of Hong Kong not only preserve their autonomy but expand their limited democracy into true, one-person-one-vote representation — and this political system inexorably spreads to the rest of China. In the other version, the Mainland and its Hong Kong representatives suppress the protests as China consolidates territorial control: over Xinjiang and Tibet, over Hong Kong, and eventually over Taiwan and the waters of the South China Sea. 

The United States, under Donald Trump or his successor, will have less and less to say or do about which of these versions become a reality. And it has nothing at all to offer in terms of a more viable third option that might emerge from the current crisis.

Origins of the Protest

The latest round of protests in Hong Kong began in March, when thousands took to the streets to protest amendments to an extradition law. Hong Kong residents have been concerned that, accused of some arbitrary crime, they might find themselves whisked away to the Mainland and its misrule of law. 

This is not an abstract concern. Lam Wing Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who sold texts critical of leaders in Beijing, was abducted in 2015, charged with “operating a bookstore illegally,” and detained for almost eight months in Mainland China. He was released back to Hong Kong with the understanding that he return to face trial. 

Instead, Lam recently decamped to Taiwan, fearful of Hong Kong’s new extradition provisions. Canadian-Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from Hong Kong in 2017 and is reportedly still awaiting trial. A wealthy Hong Kong media titan has spoken of successfully resisting a Beijing-orchestrated kidnap attempt earlier this year.

An extradition law would effectively legalize these abductions. It would also apply to the 85,000 American citizens currently working in Hong Kong.

Protests over the extradition law grew larger and larger at the outset of summer until 1 million people thronged the streets on June 9, followed by 2 million a week later. Protesters took over the legislative building. They shut down the Hong Kong airport. They disrupted traffic on roadways. Fearful of surveillance, they have donned masks and even torn down “smart lampposts” designed to monitor traffic (but perhaps other things as well). 

More confrontational protesters have set fires, vandalized metro stations and government buildings, and thrown petrol bombs at police. For their part, the police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Masked thugs have attacked protesters. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, including pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow. 

Although Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam eventually withdrew the amended law, the protests have continued. Protesters have four principal demands: an investigation into police brutality, amnesty for those arrested during the protest, a retraction of the designation of the June 12 protest as a “riot,” and Lam’s resignation followed by a free and fair election for her replacement. The last item is a revival of the platform of the Umbrella Movement of 2014, a sustained but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to achieve universal suffrage in the territory. 

Lam is in a tough position, as she herself acknowledged in a leaked audio recording of a closed-door meeting of business leaders. Caught between Beijing and the protestors, she confessed that her maneuvering room is “very, very, very limited.” 

Response from the Mainland

So far, Beijing has expected the Hong Kong authorities to deal with the challenge, though it has made various ominous statements about acts of terrorism, the involvement of the United States, and the unacceptability of the protesters’ demands. 

Beijing has several options at this point. Chinese leader Xi Jinping could negotiate with the protesters, though this is unlikely. Xi wouldn’t want to show any weakness, particularly with the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding coming up on October 1. He could send in the army, a la Tiananmen Square 1989, and impose martial law in their territory. But that, too, is unlikely as long as the protestors don’t manage to seize the government and declare independence.

The leadership in Beijing may well be annoyed at what’s happening in Hong Kong. But this isn’t a Tiananmen Square situation. Protests are not popping up throughout the country in support of the actions in Hong Kong. Solidarity events have taken place in the United States, Germany, Britain, France, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. But on the Mainland, all is quiet, except for a few brave souls who have attempted to elude the censors to post information about what’s going on in Hong Kong.

It’s not possible to know how nearly 1.4 billion people think about anything, including a highly controversial topic like pro-democracy protests. However, given a steady diet of state-run media, the vast majority of Chinese likely view the protests in Hong Kong as simply disruptive. The events there have the flavor not of Tiananmen 1989 but rather the Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s, when young people took to the streets and turned the world upside down, resulting in enormous pain and suffering. 

As former New York Times reporter Karoline Kan has written:

To many mainlanders who believe the China model has benefited their economic development and their private lives, Hong Kong’s pursuit of democracy and freedom is not so attractive any more. They believe the mainland government is not perfect, but a messed-up government is worse. They fear political turbulence, poverty, foreign invasion — but not an authoritarian government. What’s worse, many believe the existing freedom Hong Kong enjoys is a “special treatment” that spoils the city. They believe the mainland has helped Hong Kong, but the city is ungrateful and constantly making trouble for China.

Since 1989, public opinion on the Mainland has moved inexorably in the direction of nationalism. The Chinese public tends to be rather hawkish in its orientation, with the younger generation more hardline than their parents. Few dissidents have stuck their necks out for protestors in Xinjiang or Tibet. Hong Kong, with its privileged status and myriad links to the West, has gotten even less sympathy.

The Polish Example

Carrie Lam faces much the same dilemma that bedeviled Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland in the 1980s. Jaruzelski was also an unelected leader caught between popular unrest at home and a much larger sponsor breathing down his neck. The Polish leader’s “solution” was to use the threat of a Soviet invasion to declare martial law in 1981 to suppress the rebellious Solidarity trade union. 

Out of that experience, Polish protesters came up with a different strategy. Rather than push Jaruzelski up against the wall again, they developed (or, in fact, revived) the notion of a “self-limiting revolution.” Solidarity would continue to organize, quietly and persistently, but it wouldn’t make a direct bid for power. Later, when the opportunity arose, it would negotiate with the Communist government and come up with a compromise solution for the country’s first semi-free elections.

The date of those elections? June 4, 1989. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Chinese government, having failed to reach a similar modus operandi with the Tiananmen Square protesters, violently suppressed the pro-democracy movement.

The Hong Kong protesters could take a few important lessons from the Polish experience. They should acknowledge the possibility, however remote, of a military intervention by Beijing. They should realize that no one in such a scenario — not the people on the Mainland or the U.S. government — is going to come to their aid (except rhetorically). And they should look for opportunities to compromise with the Hong Kong authorities, securing incremental victories that shore up the territory’s autonomy and its semi-democratic structures.

In this way, the Hong Kong protesters must be willing to play the long game. Solidarity came up against the wall of Soviet intransigence in 1980. By 1989, however, Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge in Moscow and the compromise strategy became spectacularly successful.

Xi Jinping is no Mikhail Gorbachev. And he has declared himself leader for life. So, the movement in Hong Kong has to be even more patient, even more strategic, and even more determined than their Polish counterparts. Their time will come. When it does, they need to be ready not only to democratize Hong Kong but also contribute to reshaping the model on the Mainland as well.

The post Hong Kong and the Future of China appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.

Boris Johnson, Voice of the People? Give Me a Break.

Foreign Policy in Focus - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 2:35pm

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: nottheviewsofmyemployer / Flickr / creative commons)

In a week such as this you can’t help but think that famous cultural theorist Stuart Hall was on to something when he remarked that “the disorderly thrust of political events disturbs the symmetry of political analysis.”

For those unable or unwilling to keep up, Boris Johnson has become the first Prime Minister in UK history to lose his inaugural three votes in the House of Commons. He has also lost his majority, been deserted by his own brother, been widely heckled by members of the public (and the odd fast-food chain) and is now, for all intents and purposes, stuck in Number 10 Downing Street until opposition parties decide it is time to vote for an early general election.

Yet, to a certain extent, this was always part of the plan.

It is important to remember that Boris Johnson is not an ideologue. He is a man who cares, ultimately, about his own reckless pursuit of power. He may now masquerade as the buccaneering strongman that Brexiteers have long desired, but this is the same Boris Johnson who had famously written one newspaper column for Remain, another for Leave, and opted for whichever side he thought would best serve his career. The rest, as they say, is history.

But, back to the present, Johnson’s strategy should not come as a particular surprise. He inherited the exact same Parliament as his predecessor Theresa May and, inevitably, is running into the exact same problems. The simple truth, as it has long stood, is that there is no majority in the House of Commons for any form of Brexit and to remedy this situation, the only way out is an election.

In this light, everything points towards a People vs Parliament election. To frame himself as the voice of the people, however, the Prime Minister needs to undergo quite the transformation. He is Eton and Oxbridge educated, he is on record vociferously defending the bankers that caused the Great Financial Crisis and, without getting too ad hominem, his birth name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. A far cry from the kind of salt-of-the-earth character Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, for one, has spent years cultivating.

The key to this transformation, therefore, is to wholeheartedly and single-mindedly pursue “the will of the people.” While those grounded in reality will be painfully aware that there is no chance of a new Brexit deal, the government needs to spend a couple of months grandstanding about the prospect of securing a new deal in Brussels. Given the commitment to leave by any means necessary on October 31, when the so-called “new talks” with the EU break down, Johnson will be seemingly left with no choice but to pursue No Deal knowing full well that the UK Parliament would prevent him from doing so.

The UK’s growing problem of in-work poverty, crumbling public services, and vast levels of inequality need long-term, strategic thinking. We are stuck in a world of politics.

Thus, here we are, with Johnson claiming that the EU will not give him a new deal and Parliament will not let him leave with No Deal. The only option, therefore, is an election. The problem for Johnson, however, is two-thirds of the House of Commons need to agree to an early election, and opposition parties are quite happy to watch the prime minister stew in a mess of his own making — unable to leave without a deal, unable to negotiate a new deal, unable to call an election, and unwilling to ask for an extension from Brussels.

One of those four options will eventually have to give.

For the prime minister, his electoral success depends on his image as a hard-line Brexiteer. He’s stated he would rather be dead in a ditch than not deliver Brexit on October 31. Thus, asking for an extension is anathema to his chances of re-election. Rumors now abound that his government will break the law and ignore legislation that makes No Deal illegal, while Johnson himself may even step down to avoid the political backlash of going to Brussels and asking for an extension.

Either way, the government shut the doors of Parliament on September 9. All legislation not passed before then is dead in the water. In the middle of the UK’s biggest political crisis since the Second World War, we will have the longest prorogation, or suspension of Parliament, in modern history. The chaos, unfortunately, will no doubt continue.

It’s worth taking a step back from these incessant political shenanigans to highlight three crucial facts.

First, it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of the general public are ill-versed (and arguably rightly so in the current context) about the minutiae of Westminster politics. While the press and political commentators may be up in arms about Johnson removing the whip from Conservative Party grandees such as Nicholas Soames or Dominic Grieve, few outside political inner circles will know or care. The image that Johnson wants to portray is a man who is willing to do anything to get Brexit done, and if recent polls are to be believed, it is a strategy that is having some success.

Second, there is no version of events where we get Brexit done and dusted. All versions of Brexit simultaneously deliver for some and betray others. This is obviously true of options such as revoking Article 50 (effectively canceling Brexit) or leaving without a deal, but is equally pertinent for May’s Hard Brexit or a so-called Soft Brexit. Worryingly, after years of deepening polarization, the mere process of parliamentary democracy (through which the type of Brexit should be decided) is now being framed as a hindrance to democracy itself.

Third, while these developments seemingly move at a million miles an hour, there are problems beyond Brexit. This should hardly need saying. Climate breakdown, the UK’s growing problem of in-work poverty, crumbling public services and vast levels of inequality need long-term, strategic thinking.

We are stuck in a world of politics, fast and slow. Too fast for some issues, too slow for others. It’s not clear if an upcoming election will sort that out.

The post Boris Johnson, Voice of the People? Give Me a Break. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Liam Kennedy is a London-based freelance researcher and commentator. Follow him @liamkennedy92.

Saudi crown prince hosts Christian Zionists

Electronic Intifada - Wed, 09/11/2019 - 12:15pm

Alliance between Christian evangelicals and Gulf states based on mutual enmity towards Iran.

Occupation good for Palestinians, says Israeli opposition chief

Electronic Intifada - Tue, 09/10/2019 - 9:51am

Benny Gantz recycles apartheid South Africa propaganda.

"There is a need to revive the spirit of liberation"

Electronic Intifada - Tue, 09/10/2019 - 2:14am

Community leader Ameer Makhoul reflects on nine years in Israeli prison.

Persecuted for playing football

Electronic Intifada - Mon, 09/09/2019 - 4:35pm
Cup final cannot take place because of Israeli movement restrictions.

Palestinian with cancer dies in Israeli detention

Electronic Intifada - Mon, 09/09/2019 - 4:13pm

Bassam al-Sayih was never granted a trial.

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