17
Jul

In her fascinating book A History of God, Karen Armstrong posits that the reason people believe in God is because God “works for them.” That is to say, God is compelling because the idea of a divine being serves a useful purpose in people’s lives. That utilitarian argument may be masked beneath a deep layer of spiritual devotion — but it’s a pragmatic decision all the same.

The same logic works, to a large degree, in explaining the motives and interests of Israel and Hamas toward one another. As the current Gaza conflict proves once again, these two actors — in a perverse way — need each other.

That’s not to deny the enmity that marks the ties between Hamas and Israel, or the existential rhetoric that drives the tone of their public accusations. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if Israeli and Hamas leaders had one wish, it would be to destroy the other. But in the practical world of Israeli-Palestinian politics, getting rid of one another is neither achievable — nor perhaps even desirable. Indeed, because it’s not an option, Israel and Hamas have not only made do with each other’s existence, they have tried to figure out how to derive the maximum benefit from one another.

The Israeli-Hamas bond goes back to the very inception of the Palestinian Islamist organization. Israel didn’t create Hamas in 1987, but in an effort to counter the more secular Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970s, it gave a variety of Islamist groups political space and leeway. It even granted an operating license for an organization created by Hamas’s founder, Ahmed Yassin. Paradoxically, Hamas’s very reason for being depended on the existence of Israel — even though its main aim was to destroy it.

One way to look at this is as a Middle Eastern form of mutually assured destruction. Hamas cannot destroy Israel, and Israel knows that it cannot reoccupy Gaza and eradicate the Islamist organization at a cost that it is willing to bear. So each actor uses the other for its own purposes.

For Israel, Hamas is a convenient address to achieve many of its short-term goals. In the strange world of controlled military confrontation, when it wants a ceasefire, it goes to Hamas, not to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When it wants Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit released from captivity, it goes to Hamas, not Abbas. And when it needs to strike out in response to the brutal murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, it cracks down on Hamas — whether or not the movement’s leadership authorized the action. Hamas is a convenient target of attack — and having applauded the kidnapping of the three boys, it is probably deserving as well.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President

Published on 16 July in  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Second, Israel needs Hamas in Gaza. Of course, it doesn’t want a militant terrorist organization launching rockets at its cities and citizens. But a Hamas that maintains order there and provides a hedge against even more radical jihadi groups is preferable to a lawless vacuum. Indeed,fewer rockets were fired from Gaza in 2013 than in any year since 2001. I’ve often pondered why al Qaeda has never been able to set up shop in an effective manner in Gaza, or undertake a terrorist extravaganza in Israel. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause.

The last thing Israel wants is a vacuum in Gaza. In fact, Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, argues that it’s in Israel’s interest that Gaza be stable, with a strong economy and central authority. Indeed, Eiland argues, a state-like structure can be held responsible in the event of a confrontation: Israel could attack national infrastructure, not just rocket launchers.

Third, Hamas presents a wonderful bogeyman for those Israelis looking to avoid dealing with the questions of how to make the two-state solution a reality. Hamas’s hostile and frequently anti-Semitic rhetoric is a gift to Israeli right-wingers, and providing them with any number of talking points about why Israel can never trust Palestinians.

The problem posed by Hamas is not just a piece of propaganda by the Israeli Right. The fact is that the absence of a monopoly over the organized use of violence in the Palestinian territories poses a legitimate threat to a two-state solution. What Israeli is going to make what are regarded as existential concessions to Mahmoud Abbas — a Palestinian leader who lacks the power to silence all the guns and rockets of Palestine?

Finally, Hamas — particularly its military wing — also thrives on the existence of Israel. Hamas’s very legitimacy is derived from an ideology and strategy steeped in confrontation and resistance. However self-destructive the ideology may be, the movement represents to many Palestinians an effort to preserve their national identity and to resist Israel and its ongoing occupation. Abbas has his peace process — or what’s left of it — and his international campaign to drum up recognition of Palestinian statehood. Hamas has its resistance. It’s in the nature of its very reason for being.

There is a good chance that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is going to escalate, perhaps to include an Israeli ground incursion as well. But even if that’s the plan, the odds don’t favor Israel’s success in breaking Hamas as an organization or ending its control over Gaza. More than likely, it will only mark another bloody phase in a long struggle between two parties who can’t seem to live with one another — or apparently without one another either.

16
Jul

Thailand’s Inevitable Revolution

Written on July 16, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

In recent weeks, the military junta in Thailand has been working hard on rehabilitating its image. A battalion of soft-spoken diplomats has been dispatched on an international charm offensive, lecturing policymakers and journalists on their good intentions and popular support. Just don’t ask them to prove it in an election.

Their efforts are aimed at promoting a distorted understanding of events — an exercise that the United States and Europe seem all too willing to accept. They want the world to believe that the May 22, 2014, military coup is somehow a “normal” feature of Thailand’s political culture, and as such, the junta should get a free pass.

If things continue along this path, we are due to have a replay of the aftermath of the 2006 coup. At the time, Western governments eventually gave their support to the military’s plan to introduce a new constitution that severely watered down representation and allowed them to keep appointees permanently entrenched in the Constitutional Court and Senate. It’s little wonder why the situation has culminated in violence and repression once again several years later, and undoubtedly what will happen if they remain unchallenged in 2014.

The military has already prepared its transition. A provisional constitution drafted by the junta will be introduced containing less than 50 sections. A cabinet will be formed in September as well as a 250-member “reform council,” all filled with people exclusively handpicked by the coup, which will then be followed by an election where the military will be able to re-install their colleagues in the Democrat Party — otherwise known as “The Party of the Army.”

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a member of the Election Commission, has already chillingly told European diplomats only “moral” people will be allowed to win the elections.

The recent revelation that planning for this coup began four years ago, with close coordination between the accused murderer former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban (and former Democrat Party member) and General Prayuth Chan-ocha, should raise major red flags. This coup wasn’t a last resort or necessity to solve political deadlock — it was a premeditated, calculated agenda to steal control of the instruments of power and demolish a popularly elected government.

What must be understood about Thailand’s seemingly endless cycle of coups and repression is that this is not necessarily a political struggle, but a struggle against history. There is an unstoppable and growing political awakening taking place that is crashing up against traditional elites who view their fellow citizens as feudal serfs.

Since 1932, Thailand has never seen a period of true political stability due to this struggle. In her excellent book “Revolution Interrupted,” the academic Tyrell Haberkorn describes Thailand’s history as occasional periods of silence punctuated by violent cycles of coups and repression. The protagonists may change, but the role of the Thai Army is always the same.

Today we are in a silent period, where opposition to the coup has been frozen through threats, intimidation, interrogations and show trials. There are credible rumors of atrocities taking place far from the public eye, while right in the center of Bangkok people have reportedly been arrested for reading Orwell, holding sandwiches and carrying signs with slogans such as “Long live USA.”

Such wildly repressive behavior is what we have come to expect from the people who brought us the 1976 Thammasat University massacre and the 2010 Bangkok massacre. These acts of unaccountable violence and repression by the military are likely to continue, as no member of the Army has ever suffered a loss of “prestige” for toppling an elected government or ordering troops to fire upon protesters.

How we react to the Thai coup matters. As the Australian academic Nicholas Farrelly has argued, the actions of the U.S. government in response to Thailand’s past coups has guaranteed “any stigma associated with military government never overwhelmed international acceptance.”

It’s time for a new approach. The junta’s transition plan must be rejected and understood for what it is: a blatant attempt by one minority to dominate the majority. The soldiers must be told to return to the barracks and stay there. The U.S. government as well as the European Union must demand an immediate handover to an independent civilian administration that is capable of overseeing free and fair elections, leading to a new constitution by the people through elected representatives, not coup-appointed figures.

Most important, targeted sanctions must be immediately applied against members of the Thai army to restrict their travel privileges and freeze their bank accounts, as well as those of the businesses and corporations that sponsored the overthrow of the government. These individuals committed a grave crime, and it is time they be treated as criminals.

The reason why we no longer see regular military coups in places like Africa and Latin America is because it has become internationally unacceptable. There’s no reason to expect any less from Thailand, especially given the tide of history.

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy.

Published on July 16, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

14
Jul
  July 11

Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has served as a Middle East adviser for Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. He is the author of the forthcoming “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.”

Yes, Israelis and Palestinians have entered yet another violent round in their seemingly interminable conflict. How did they get into this mess? And, more important, how are they going to get out of it? As we watch the fighting escalate, here are five myths that need correcting.

1.John Kerry’s failed peace process led to the crisis.

There are many downsides to spending nine months trying to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement when one was never possible. But the notion, as some maintain, that the secretary of state’s bid for an agreement made America the “arsonist of the Middle East ” isn’t one of them. The horrific murders of three Israeli teens by Palestinian extremists, and the torture and murder of a young Palestinian by Israeli Jewish extremists, had nothing to do with Kerry or the ups and downs of the peace process.

Kerry failed in April because Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t or wouldn’t find common ground on the big sticking points, such as how to divide Jerusalem and how to handle Palestinian refugees. The kidnappings of the Israeli teens occurred in June, and if undertaken by a Hamas cell — independent or tied to Gaza — had a logic unrelated to Kerry’s effort. As did the revenge killing of the Palestinian teen by Israeli Jews. Even if Kerry had succeeded, extremists might have sought to derail the deal. In the spring of 1996, for example, Hamas conducted four suicide attacks in nine days, killing about 60 Israelis, in an effort to ensure that the Oslo peace process would not continue after an Israeli extremist assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Several of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition partners think the Israeli army should reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas. But most Israelis and Palestinians know that isn’t the answer; they’ve lived through two tragic prequels to this movie. For three weeks in 2008-2009 and one week in 2012, Israel and Hamas confronted each other. And each time, the aftermath was predictable: No Israel-Hamas problem can be solved through force of arms — only managed. In the first case, Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire; in the second, the Egyptians brokered one. Israel achieved a measure of deterrence that lasted until the next round; Hamas, beaten up badly, survived politically and restocked its arsenal of long-range weapons.

Israel isn’t prepared to pay the political, economic or psychological price that would come with occupying Gaza or launching a massive military intervention to destroy Hamas as an organization. Indeed, there are no solutions, only another outcome that may buy Israel a temporary quiet but won’t eliminate Hamas’s rockets.

3.We’re on the verge of a third intifada.

The violence in the West Bank and Gaza clearly could escalate, particularly if civilian deaths in Gaza rise dramatically. And the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been preternaturally quiet during the past several years makes the current violence seem more severe. But that doesn’t necessarily suggest, as some commentators have, that we’re facing another intifada. Or that it would be similar to the first, from 1987 to 1991, which was a broad popular uprising organized at the grass-roots level; or to the second, from 2000 to 2004, a suicide terror campaign led by Hamas, Fatah-affiliated groups and others that culminated in a sustained military confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces.

4.The hawkish Netanyahu is eager to pound Gaza.

Some believe that the Israeli prime minister’s antagonism toward Palestinians provoked the current crisis . Having dealt with Bibi during his first stint as prime minister in the 1990s, I am convinced that he has no intention of being the father of a Palestinian state. Nevertheless, he remains the only Likud prime minister to cede territory in the West Bank. He has struck hard at Hamas previously, but his record is one of restraint when compared with predecessors such as Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon .

Today, Netanyahu is a man stuck in the middle: His advisers on the right want a more expansive military approach. His critics on the left believe he will always opt for military strength. But, from what I hear, Netanyahu does not want an escalation, even though he wants to deal Hamas a severe blow. So far, as terrible as the Israeli strikes on Hamas have been for Gazan civilians, this remains a limited operation, not the type of large-scale military sweep seen in Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. Long-range Hamas missiles directed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem might still trigger a much broader conflict, but not because Netanyahu wants one.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has criticized the Obama administration for not leaping into the middle of the Gaza crisis. But right now, Washington lacks the key ingredients for successful mediation. The last thing the United States needs is to strengthen Hamas, and thereby weaken Abbas, by engaging directly with the Islamist organization. As long as the Egyptians or the Turks aren’t prepared to try to get Hamas to stand down, and Hamas isn’t ready to do so, neither the president nor the secretary of state will have much leverage with the Israelis. And right now Hamas, and perhaps even Israel, does not seem all that desperate to end this.

American phones may be ringing soon enough. If that moment comes, there may be a useful role for the Obama administration to play. But America does not need to get in the middle of a fight that neither side is prepared to end just yet.

Published on July 11 in http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions

10
Jul

The US takes great pains not to be seen to interfere in other people’s elections. In Afghanistan, any whiff of involvement is deeply toxic. Everyone remembers the 2009 poll and repeated allegations that American officials were manipulating the vote – allegations confirmed by Robert Gates’s memoir this year, in which the former defence secretary said US diplomats tried to tilt the playing field to nudge Hamid Karzai from power.

So it would have taken a lot to get Barack Obama to pick up the telephone and call Afghanistan’s election candidates last night, warning them they would lose aid if they tried to seize power unconstitutionally.

That phone call is a sign of the worst case scenario that foreign governments are entertaining: a shadow government formed by Abdullah Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance figure, and civil war. Iraq’s bleak headlines may offer a glimpse of Afghanistan’s future.

But even the best case scenario is looking like a disaster, leaving the West’s carefully honed exit plans in tatters. That plan demands a string of medium-term commitments to ensure that Afghanistan can make the jump to sustainability, demands that will have to remain on hold as the election crisis is resolved one way or another.

With combat troops heading home this year, Kabul is yet to sign a security deal with Washington to allow trainers and special forces to stay until 2016. That will not happen until a new president is installed.

In September, Nato nations will gather for a summit in Wales. World leaders will discuss everything from cybersecurity to the unfolding emergency in Iraq. Afghanistan needs to muscle its way high up the agenda, and perhaps try to persuade Nato countries to fund not just the 228,500 troops agreed but something closer to the 350,000 or so currently deployed.

That’s not going to happen if we have weeks and weeks of election squabbling, a president backed by only half the country – or Hamid Karzai in his last lame duck weeks – attending the summit.

Figures released by the United Nations today show the problem. The death toll in the first six months of this year shows a 17 per cent rise on last year to more than 1500. The figures reflect that more of the fighting is taking place close to inhabited areas.

Never mind the worst case scenario, and a total breakdown into Iraq-style conflict. Even the best case scenarios will slow down the international aid that Afghanistan needs if it is to have any hope of a stable, secure future.

Rob Crilly is Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Before that he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.

Published on 9 July in http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk

8
Jul

Can Beijing and Seoul Become Strategic Partners?

Written on July 8, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

China’s President Xi Jinping will complete an exchange of state visits with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the space of a little less than a year. This is a remarkable intensification of the relationship between Seoul and Beijing, especially when one considers that Xi Jinping has yet to visit Pyongyang or receive Kim Jong-un. Likewise, routinized summits between Seoul and Tokyo have vanished as Seoul-Beijing relations have intensified, raising questions in Tokyo about whether Seoul might prefer Beijing over the United States and Japan. But despite a burgeoning trade relationship between Seoul and Beijing that is larger than the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the United States and Japan, what future can Xi and Park forge for China-South Korea relations going forward, and to what purpose?

For Seoul, the strategic payoff would come from Beijing’s acquiescence to Seoul’s leading role in shaping the parameters for Korea’s reunification. This has persisted as South Korea’s main objective for its relationship with Beijing since Roh Tae-woo achieved normalization of relations with Beijing as part of his Nordpolitik policy in the early 1990s.

But while Beijing maintained the pretense of equidistance between Pyongyang and Seoul despite a burgeoning trade relationship with South Korea that has grown by more than thirty-five times over the past two decades, China’s leadership has shown great reluctance to abandon Pyongyang in favor of Seoul. China protected Pyongyang from international outrage following its 2010 shelling of Yeonpyong Island and all the top members of China’s Politburo publicly appeared at the North Korean embassy in Beijing to pay their condolences on the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011. But since North Korea under  Kim Jong-un launched its third nuclear test in the middle of Xi Jinping’s transition to power in early 2013, the political relationship has soured. China seems to have been particularly shocked by Kim Jong-un’s treatment of his uncle, Jang Song-taek, whom Beijing had welcomed as Kim’s envoy a year prior to Jang’s purge and execution.

Will Xi Jinping finally satisfy South Korea’s strategic yearnings by throwing Kim Jong-un under the bus? Probably not, as long as South Korea remains tethered to its alliance with the United States. And not so long as China continues to prize stability on the Korean peninsula as a higher priority than America’s primary objective of denuclearization and South Korea’s main objective of reunification.

For Beijing, a main payoff from the visit to Seoul, aside from sending a not so subtle message to Pyongyang, will lie in securing Seoul’s cooperation with Beijing in criticizing Japan. There is no doubt that by visiting Yasukuni Shrine last December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stirred up public outrage and distrust over Japan’s future intentions in both South Korea and China. Both governments and publics will continue to watch Abe’s defense moves like a hawk as Japan has breached its self-imposed cap on defense spending at one percent of GDP and has started a debate over the reinterpretation of Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

But despite China’s sudden decision last year to celebrate the life of Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun with a museum rather than simply a plaque, South Korea has thus far rejected the “outside game” of utilizing summitry with Beijing to gang up on Japan, in favor of an “inside game,” which is focused on pressing the United States to check any possible tendencies by Japan’s prime minister to stray beyond justifiable steps to enhance Japan’s self-defense by pursuing regionally destabilizing historical revisionism. This approach reveals clearly that South Korea is using the alliance with the United States as a hedge and platform that boosts its diplomatic clout in its strategic dealings with China rather than placing the alliance up for negotiation as part of its bid to win China’s support for Korean reunification.

A strong economic relationship between China and South Korea has brought Beijing and Seoul closer together than ever before, but a strategic sense of common purpose and shared common interest between the two countries remains lacking. As a result, while a stronger China-South Korea relationship may serve mutual interests on some issues, there remain clear limits on the development of the political and strategic relationship between the two countries.

Scott A. Synder is Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy. This post appears courtesy of CFR.org and Forbes Asia.

Published on July 06 in the http://thediplomat.com

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