Category Archives: Middle East

A cycle of mutual reinforcement – The Israel-Palestine conflict and omens for the future

As with all violent conflicts, a process of othering and a gradual dehumanisation of the opposition becomes an instrument of justification for those on both sides of the crossfire. The insidious combination of fear, racism and stigmatisation can distort a society’s view of other humans to the extent that systematic acts of violence can be committed without empathy and without remorse. Often, this combination is administered by one side so effectively that despite, for example, a comparative contrast in military might, a disparity in social standing or economic development, or perhaps using some of these realities as further justification, violence descends into a cycle of mutual reinforcement. On the other side of the conflict is often an enfeebled, comparatively weaker state, that resorts to symbolic forms of violence to deliver a message about the perceived injustice they face. Only then to be labelled subversives or terrorists in the process. This cycle is one of the most powerful catalysts for conflict taking place on both national and international scales.

The most pertinent example of a conflict locked in a cycle of mutual reinforcement is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Importantly, the cycle itself is perpetuated not just by physical and military violence, but also by cultural violence (Galtung,1990). Israel and Palestine remain separate entities. The Israeli’s, a powerful advanced economy with state of the art military technology. The Palestinian’s, an unrecognised entity living under occupation in the West Bank or under military control on the Gaza strip. Furthermore, the Palestinians remain separated from Israel by a wall and a series of military blockades. The power of this divide is the physical manifestation of the process of othering (Said,1978). The symbolic significance is that it is very rare for an ordinary Israeli to encounter a Palestinian – or an ‘Arab’, as they are almost exclusively referred to by Israeli’s (Peled-Elhanan,2012). The historical significance of this divide is that both Israeli and Palestinian education systems teach alternate and contrasting histories of the region. Not only contrasting histories, but the media depicts two contrasting versions of the present and the future, that only cross when violence has been committed by one side to the other (Deprez & Raeymaeckers, 2010). Thus, the social development of Israelis and Palestinians are mutually constituted by a belief that the ‘other’ is the enemy.

Israel is depicted in Palestine and by the Arab nations as an American agent of destabilisation, the product of colonial pursuits and a heavily militarised denier of Palestine’s collective history and social existence. Palestine is barely depicted by Israel at all. The unacknowledged occupants of a ‘land without a people, for a people without a land’ (Muir,2008). When they are depicted, it is in inflammatory terms. Even for many in the West, particularly in the US, Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism, a lack of development, resistance to democracy and rampant anti-Semitism. It is these carefully cultivated caricatures that allow the cycle of reinforcement to take place. When a terrorist attack happens, it is blamed on Palestinian resistance to the state of Israel and an instinct for violence and anti-Semitism. When Israel responds excessively, with the full force of its indoctrinated and vastly superior armed forces, it is because Palestinian’s are viewed as sub-human terrorists.

This legitimising discourse on both sides necessitates and condones internationally condemned treatment of Palestinians in the form of excessive military responses, widespread displacement and settlement building. Whilst Palestinians continue to fight for nationhood with what little power they possess, usually via demonstration or suicide bombing. This is the reinforcement process, with perceptions carefully conditioned to utilise and distort the narrative of the violence the opposing side has committed. It is unfortunate that this will continue until Israel forces Palestine into submission or Israel contradicts its founding doctrines and recognises a state of Palestine. However, with Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Naftali Bennett’s far-right coalition in power, and the continued settlement expansion into the West Bank, a two-state solution seems impossible (Al Jazeera,2017). And with the Rohingya crisis displaying some similar characteristics to the conflict in Israel, the power of mutual reinforcement continues to threaten international peace (BBC news,2017).

 

Deprez, A. and Raeymaeckers, K., (2010). Bias in the news? The representation of Palestinians and Israelis in the coverage of the First and Second Intifada. International Communication Gazette, 72(1), pp.91-109.

Galtung, J., (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of peace research, 27(3), pp.291-305

Kibble, D, (2012). A plea for improved education about ‘the Other’ in Israel and Palestine. The Curriculum journal. 23:4, pp.553-566

Muir, D., (2008). A Land without a People for a People without a Land. Middle East Quarterly.

Peled-Elhanan, N., (2012). Palestine in Israeli school books: Ideology and propaganda in education (Vol. 82). IB Tauris.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 199.

Al Jazeera [online], UN: Israel settlements big hurdle to two-state solution, (2017), available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/israel-settlements-big-hurdle-state-solution-170829174956923.html [accessed: 20/09/2017]

BBC news [online], Rohingya crisis: Suu Kyi says ‘fake news helping terrorists’, (2017), available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41170570 [accessed: 20/09/2017]

 

Anglo-Saudi Relations: A Study in Realist International Theory

As we in the western world wrestle with the cultural theatrics that come with a modern brand of political correctness. From internet trolls to gender and racial tolerance; issues which are a far-cry from the cultural norms of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of numerous basic human rights abuses and of funding international terrorism. So why does the UK, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and a self-proclaimed cradle for modern liberal values overtly engage in the sale of arms and support to the Saudi regime. Realism is a theory of international politics which insists that states act in a rational manner and only to further their own self-interests, as opposed to liberal theory; which posits that states ally themselves in accordance to shared values (known as norms).



In a realists’ world, the UK aligns itself with the House of Saud because the relationship is a beneficial one – in the sense that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia helps to expand the UK economy. The fact that such weapons are being used with complete disregard for Yemeni civilian life, does not seem to be a concern for the British government, as it should be according to subscribers of Liberal Theory (human rights being a supposed UK norm). In its 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which the Saudi state has also tightened its restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It continues to detain, arrest and prosecute writers and online commentators based on vague charges. It also pursues those who attempt to defend human rights within its borders: including founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and the Union for Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2017).

Though there is no conclusive evidence that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the support of ISIL, there are sources which give credence to such allegations. In the famous leaked Emails which plagued Mrs. Clinton’s 2017 bid for the presidency, John Podesta wrote that the Saudis were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (Wikileaks, 2015) Published diplomatic cables from the US State Department serve to reinforce Podesta’s claim: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (Wikileaks, 2009).

But all of this is disregarded by our government, because to address it would be counter-productive to the UK’s plans in the region. Which are representative of the West’s grander plan for the Middle-East; with the Saudi trade partnership and the mutual exchange of oil and arms at its centre. Besides the economic benefits of such a partnership, the UK is willing to ignore Saudi funding of ISIL because the alliance provides the West with a somewhat reliable ally in opposition to Iran, the Taliban and other actors the UK deems as a threat to her interests.

So a few people have their rights infringed upon, and some people may lose their lives because of terrorism, or paradoxically find themselves imprisoned on vague anti-terrorist charges. The fact is, in a realist world system, these things clearly don’t count for much.

 

Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia 2016/2017” (2017): Accessible: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Congrats!, John Podesta Email Chain” (2015): Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3774 (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance” (2009) Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE131801_a.html (Accessed 17/09/2017)

Russia’s Very Own Turkish Coup

The move by Russia to normalise its relations with Turkey was unexpected. However, it makes perfect sense when one considers Russia’s foreign policy strategy is focused on outmanoeuvring the US and Europe over the refugee and Syria crises.

The tension that had until recently dogged relations between the two nations had been caused by the downing of a Russian jet near Turkey’s border with Syria on 24th November last year. One of the most significant links between this incident and the normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations is that a repeat is now highly unlikely. The strengthening of ties between the two will allow the Russians additional freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Russia is thus in a considerably stronger position to advance its own aims and those of Bashar al-Assad, something which the US and Europe do not want to see.

The significance of Turkey in the current refugee crisis cannot be ignored either. There are approximately 2.75 million refugees currently in Turkey. Russia, like ISIS, has utilised the crisis to destabilise the domestic and foreign affairs of the US and Europe. The normalisation of ties with Turkey will give the Russians increased influence over the fate of the millions of refugees resident there. This spells bad news for a Europe that is already being strained at a political and societal level by both this crisis and Brexit. The EU’s aim of expanding will also have been set back by the normalisation as Turkey had a significant interest in one day joining the EU. It is now highly doubtful that this will happen anytime in the short or medium term future, and once again shows the ease at which Russia is able to outflank the EU at a diplomatic level.

Normalisation of relations with Turkey was nothing short of a masterstroke from Russia. It shows that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, whilst decreasing the likelihood of a solution to the refugee and Syrian crises and the instability in the EU being found. Should the isolationist and unstable Donald Trump capture the White House later this year, Russia’s work to ensure that it becomes one of the dominant powers in Eurasia will be frighteningly close to fruition. The need for greater cohesion and purpose within the EU, and for the West in general over the refugee and Syria crises has never been greater.

Better Relations with Iran will benefit all!

Relations between Iran and the Western world have often been complicated with trust lacking on both sides. In recent months though there are signs this may be changing. The U.S in particular is making new efforts to reengage with Iran and a lot of hope has been placed in President Hassan Rouhani and his desire to modernise the country.

This thaw in relations appears to have reaped dividends with news that international nuclear sanctions placed on Iran have been lifted. This was after the international nuclear watchdog said Iran had compiled with a deal designed to prevent it developing nuclear weapons. Before the deal Iran could have enriched enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb within a matter of weeks, now it would take more than a year.

Nuclear sanctions have been in place since 2006. This coupled with other sanctions has had a very detrimental effect on the Iranian economy. The lifting of these sanctions could lead to a flurry of Iranian economic activity and is likely to help the country progress and develop.

The Middle East is an area in conflict presently. Syria remains in chaos and war is ongoing in Yemen. These situations have no easy solution. Iran is a crucial player in the region and is vital to any chance of long-term peace and stability and ending these conflicts. If the West could work with Iran rather than against them in these instances and also around the world then this should benefit all and is to be welcomed.

This change in relations has not been universally welcomed. Israel refuse to be convinced by Iran’s recent actions and have accused Tehran of still seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Secondly the U.S Republican Party through House Speaker Paul Ryan have also expressed doubt claiming the Obama administration had moved to list economic sanctions on the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

More progress can be made in talks between Iran and the West but it does appear relations are better than they have been for a while. This is to be welcomed. Of course there are still tensions and issues to be resolved but bringing Iran back to the table is a good thing and highlights the power of good diplomacy. This is a step forward and a situation we should celebrate.

That is real- Saudi Arabia is elected as a chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the new chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel, despite the fact that the Kingdom holds terrifying human rights records. For many individuals that choice was absolutely unexpected. The Kingdom will be chairing the group of 5 ambassador members, which is also called- the Consultative group. The group is responsible for the appointment of more than 77 experts worldwide. These experts monitor and assess the human rights records in various countries around the world. These positions are considered to be from crucial importance for the UN Human Rights Council.

By appointing fundamentalist theocracy that is constantly violating the human rights of its own citizens, as well as these of the neighbouring countries places their legitimacy under question. Saudi Arabia has beheaded more than a hundred people only this year. That amount is even higher than that of the Islamic State. Moreover free speech is still a dream in Saudi Arabia. The number of people like the blogger Saif Badawi, jailed for pledging about democracy and criticising the government is unknown. Another activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, just 17 years is sentenced to death by crusification. The reason is that he took participation of the anti- government protests. The rights of the women are another issue, which deserves significant attention. In addition to the varieties of restrictions imposed on women, they are not allowed even to drive.

For some the fact that the Saudis are presiding that panel might seem insignificant. Unfortunately the facts are different. The last couple of weeks have demonstrated the opposite. The Netherlands has made a proposal the war crimes in the Yemeni war to be investigated by an independent commission. The proposal included investigation on Saudis and the opposition Houthi rebels. Also the Dutch proposed the Yemeni ports, which are occupied from the Saudi army to be opened in order to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid for Yemeni citizens. Riyadh, the Yemeni government in exile and their allies in the UNHRC (the UAE, Qatar and Morocco) strongly resisted the Dutch proposal. The reason for that is that the Saudi government is aiming to conceal its own war crimes. On 7-th of September the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report which concluded that both parties in the Yemeni conflict committed violations. According to the report- the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for 62% of civilian casualties. Furthermore on 28-th of September 130 civilians were killed by a single Saudi air strike.

However the proposal was rejected and instead was passed an alternative resolution. The resolution supports the decree of the Saudi backed Yemeni government in exile. It proposes appointing of a national commission of inquiry and requires only technical assistance from the UN. The absence of an independent Yemeni inquiry will result to predictable outcome of the investigation. It also gives us an example of how the UN commissions might be used to protect the national interests. In the case with Saudi Arabia that might be just the beginning. As the UN watch executive director- Hillel Neuer states: “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members.”

Israel has every right to be angry with Iran’s deal!

Iran recently reached a deal with Western powers on the country’s nuclear programme. This caused wild celebrations on the streets of Tehran and among ordinary Iranian citizens and came after long negotiations. However the agreement has not been universally popular and has its fair share of critics as well.

The deal stated billions of dollars of sanctions would be lifted and in exchange for these sanctions being lifted, 98% of Iran’s stock-pile of weapons grade uranium would be destroyed, making the path to a nuclear weapon more difficult. These reforms would give Iran greater control over their economy and would allow the country to trade with the rest of the world.

The loudest critics of this deal have been the Republican Party in America who claimed this deal legitimized the Iranian government and that Iran could not be trusted and the Israeli government who are fearful of a stronger Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very strong saying this was a mistake of historic proportions and that Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons.

Iran does have a questionable track record and therefore questions do have to be asked about trust. Despite being brought to the negotiating table, they have shown no desire to change their position on Israel and still refuse Israel’s right to exist. This should have been made a focal point of any negotiations. Until this changes they will always remain a threat to Israel and the more powerful they become which this deal will ensure the stronger the threat they will be.

Iran has always had a difficult relationship with the West. Therefore it is admirable that Iran has been brought to the negotiating table. However that does not justify a potentially bad deal or mean that any deal is better than no deal. Parts of this deal remain unsavoury and therefore Israel has every right to be angry with the agreement.