Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stopping by a Middle East news stand

By Carol Gee

(image: sumeja @ StockXchng)

What is going on in the Middle East these days,
I asked myself. I confess that my ignorance about the region is a few weeks old. As I read to catch up with the latest from Aljazeera, I picked up a thread that ties all the stories together. What I learned is that factions of people are upset that certain people are not where they are supposed to be. Or, occasionally, others are pleased to see strangers where they usually have not been for some time. (All quotes are from Aljazeera):

Turkey and the Kurds -- shooting at each other has gone on for some time now. But the actions of Kurdish separatists, who would like to establish an intact and sovereign Kurdistan, are now being actively challenged by Turkey, with the help of the U.S. These new developments have proved to be a hornet's nest of complications for the United States diplomatic forces, trying to get the Iraqi government factions to reconcile and move forward. The headline says, "Turkish forces launch Iraq raid." To quote:

Some 300 Turkish troops have crossed over into northern Iraq in an overnight operation hunting Kurdish separatist fighters.

Reports on Tuesday said that the troops had already pulled out, but not before their presence overshadowed a surprise visit by the US secretary of state to Kirkuk in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Condoleezza Rice was snubbed by the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region in protest against America's apparent helping role in the military action.

. . . Meanwhile, US military commanders and diplomats in Iraq said they did not know Turkey was sending warplanes to bomb in northern Iraq until the jets had already crossed the border.

Americans have been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

The Haj in Saudi Arabia and Iran -- a Sunni country and a Shia country were at odds in the recent past. But they have been having more frequent interactions as part of a larger Middle East family of nations. And the President of Iran is now making his own pilgrimage to Mecca in the heart of Saudi Arabia. The headline is, "Ahmadinejad takes part in the Hajj;" and to quote:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, joined millions of Muslims on Mount Arafat, east of Mecca, to mark the spiritual high point of the Hajj. He is the first Iranian leader to take part in the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Ahmadinejad is attending the Hajj at the invitation of King Abdullah, the Saudi king.

. . . Last month, Ahmadinejad publicly rebuked King Abdullah for Saudi Arabia's participation in a meeting in the US city of Annapolis aimed at finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

But he also became the first president of Iran to attend the end-of-year annual summit of Gulf Arab leaders that was held in Qatar earlier this month.

Israel and Palestine -- continued killing and territorial conflict. Attacks by each side against the other, demands for recognition of rights, incursions into the other's territories, all continue to plague the peace process that has lagged behind for decades. "Hamas leader renews truce offer" is the headline. To quote from the story:

Islamic Jihad, a group much smaller than Hamas, has been responsible for most of the attacks since Hamas seized total control of Gaza last June from forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah party.

"We stand by our original offer for a truce based on reciprocation and an end to attacks by all sides," Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

"Our position has not changed. We are ready to commit to a truce but Israel would also have to simultaneously commit to stopping its raids and assassinations against the Palestinians."

Earlier reports suggested that Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Gaza-based Hamas government, made a new truce offer through the Israeli media in a telephone conversation with Suleiman al-Shafi, an Israeli journalist.

Palestinians and Israelis -- conflicted over settling Jerusalem. The so-called "two-state solution" still seems very far away. The factions have split into smaller and smaller groups, and small pieces of land are still in dispute. Neither side has been able to step back and see how their rigid stances are perceived by their opponents. Negotiators always seem bound by worries about being seen as not rigid enough by their own constituencies. The story is headlined, "Israel 'examines' new settlement." To quote:

Israel has said it is examining a plan to construct a new Jewish neighbourhood in occupied east Jerusalem, weeks after sparking criticism for expanding another settlement in the city.

. . . Two weeks ago, Israel invited bids for more than 300 new housing units in another settlement at Jebel Abu Ghneim in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem. Har Homa, as the settlement is known to Israelis, is built on land confiscated by Israel.

. . . Palestinians want the eastern part of Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and later annexed, for the capital of a future state.

. . . In its 40 years of control over east Jerusalem, Israel has built new neighbourhoods there that are now home to 180,000 Israelis.

Update: The new headline, just in, reads, "Israel backs off on settlement plan." Good news! Tough choices need to be made by all of these conflicted parties in the Middle East.

The United States is also obliged to make tough choices. As long as our military forces occupy Iraq, the factions will not have incentive to work to reconcile themselves. We need to leave them to it. We need to begin talking to Iran in the process, who can be enlisted in solutions because of potential interest in a peaceful Iraq. And most of all, a strong, concerted and skillful U.S. initiative towards a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine will go a long way towards bringing peace to the entire region. The establishment of Palestinians in a contiguous area that can sustain a united population, and a peaceful settlement of Israelis in a secure area to which they have an acknowledged right, is the dreamed-for "two state solution." The U.S. owes such a big effort to the region. Goodness knows we have made such a mess. We really need to clean up after ourselves with more good offices than have been forthcoming so far. All this may have to wait for a new president. The current leopards are probably not going to change their spots.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest)

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