Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tunisia Is Leading The Way On Women's Rights In The Middle East

Tunisia is the first country in the region to withdraw reservations to the UN convention granting equal rights to men and women
By Brian Whitaker
  Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands march in central Tunis during the uprising. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuter
Last December, Tunisians rose up against their dictator, triggering a political earthquake that has sent shockwaves through most of the Middle East and north Africa. Now, Tunisia is leading the way once again – this time on the vexed issue of gender equality.
It has become the first country in the region to withdraw all its specific reservations regarding Cedaw – the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
This may sound a rather obscure and technical matter but it's actually a very important step. It reverses a long-standing abuse of human rights treaties – especially in the Middle East – where repressive regimes sign up to these treaties for purposes of international respectability but then excuse themselves from some or all of their obligations.
Saudi Arabia, for example, operates the world's most blatant and institutionalised system of discrimination against women – and yet, along with 17 other Arab states, it is also a party to Cedaw. It attempts to reconcile this position through reservations saying it does not consider itself bound by any part of the treaty which conflicts "with the norms of Islamic law".
In effect, the Saudi government claims the right to ignore any part of Cedaw it doesn't like. The "norms of Islamic law" is a meaningless phrase because the Sharia has never been formally codified. There are various methods of interpreting it and scholars often disagree in their interpretations. The "norms of Islamic law" thus means whatever the Saudis choose it to mean.
Saudi Arabia is probably the most extreme case of using "Islamic law" to negate the effects of human rights treaties but, among the other Arab countries, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Syria and the UAE have also lodged Sharia-based reservations to Cedaw.
Although the ousted Tunisian regime deprived citizens of many political rights, the country's record on women's rights has been relatively good – at least in comparison with other parts of the region. It was one of the first countries to sign up to Cedaw – way back in 1980 – and women accounted for more than 20% of its members of parliament.
Despite that, Tunisia had lodged a series of reservations to clauses in Cedaw which grant equal rights to men and women in family matters, including:
• Equal rights to pass on nationality to their children.
• Equal rights and responsibilities in marriage and divorce.
• Equal rights in the guardianship and adoption of children.
• Equal personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.
• Equal property rights.
Tunisia had objected to these on the grounds that they conflicted with its nationality code and its personal status code. The point of international conventions such as Cedaw, though, is that they take precedence over local laws. Countries that sign up to them are expected to amend their local laws in order to comply with international standards, not exempt themselves from selected parts of the convention.
The decision by Tunisia's temporary government to withdraw these reservations is thus seen as a first step towards amending the laws once a new parliament has been elected.
One possible hiccup is that the government has retained one general reservation which says Tunisia will not take any legislative action which conflicts with Chapter 1 of the constitution. Chapter 1 includes a statement that the country's religion is Islam – which could lead to some Sharia-based arguments for keeping the law unchanged – but Human Rights Watch suggests this is unlikely. Until now, Tunisia has not used Chapter 1 as an excuse for maintaining laws or practices that violate Cedaw.
So there is a fair chance that within a few months Tunisia will be making a serious effort to meet its obligations under Cedaw and again setting an example for others in the region to follow.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 10/09/2011
-Brian Whitaker has done a variety of jobs at the Guardian including, most recently, seven years as Middle East editor

Jihadists In Syria: Myth Or Reality?

By Murad Batal al-Shishani

  President Bashar al-Assad

In a speech on June 20, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad identified three components of the unrest in his country: citizens with legitimate grievances and needs that must be addressed; criminal elements; and “radicals” seeking to destabilise the country. He accused external forces, outlaws, and radicals of exploiting the “movement seeking legitimate reforms” (BBC Arabic, June 20).
Since February 2011, Syria has witnessed a series of demonstrations and protests demanding the ouster of the president Bashar al-Assad and his family and an end to the rule of the Ba’ath party. The protesters insist on the peaceful nature of their political movement, but in order to justify its violent reaction against them the Syrian regime claims that they are confronting “Takfiri-Salafi armed groups” and “outlaw gangsters.”
When Bashar’s father Hafiz Assad (1930-2000) clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood during his four-decade rule, he applied similar descriptions for his opponents. In a speech aired on Damascus Radio on June 30, 1979, the late Syrian president said:
They [the Muslim Brotherhood] have exploited the atmosphere of freedom in order to tempt some young people into committing crimes and to cause [them] to become enemies of Islam. We cannot be lenient with this group, which has committed various acts of murder and one of the most odious massacres ever known in the history of Islam. [1]
Democratic Protests
Both presidents accused “extremism”, but the historical contexts are different; in the late 1970s and the early 1980s there was an armed opposition to Syrian regime and the latter responded by using disproportionate measures of violence, causing the death of tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians. Currently, although the Syrian regime is confronted by peaceful demonstrations inspired by the success of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, it has responded in a fashion similar to the Hafiz Assad’s crackdown on Islamists in the early 1980s, killing more than 2000 civilians since the uprising began six months ago (Guardian, August 8).
According to a report based on the testimony of Syrian opposition figures and prepared by the Henry Jackson Society (a London-based association devoted to democratization), the Syrian opposition is a democratic-leaning movement in which “the Islamist quotient among the opposition is very low.” [2] Al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri indirectly confirmed the absence of jihadis from the Syrian scene when he addressed a video message to Syrian protesters saying:
Our brothers and fellow Muslims of the Sham [Levant], the land of Ribat [steeds of war] and jihad, Allah knows that if it weren't for the raging war with the New Crusades in which we are engaged, and were it not for these borders restrictions penned by Sykes and Picot and sanctified by our rulers, my brothers and I would be at your side today, in your midst defending you with our necks and chests… but we are consoled by the fact that Sham, the land of Islam and martyrdom, has enough mujahideen for themselves as well as others. [3]
While all indicators show that no “Takfiri-Salafi armed groups” are leading the democratic protests in Syria, it seems that the Syrian regime seeking to tailor a message to the West, which seems to be willing to listen to Arab regimes once the spectre of “Jihadism” is raised. However, the violence that the regime is using against protestors might inadvertently lead to radicalization and the emergence of new jihadists as well as provoking existing Syrian jihadists, pushing them out into the streets in revolt.
Syrian Jihadists
The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 played a major role in increasing the numbers of Syrian jihadis. With the Syrian government turning a blind eye, regions bordering Iraq, like the Bou Kamal area, became hubs for facilitating the entry of jihadis to Iraq to fight the Americans. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, then the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was also very keen to create the Levant branch of al-Qaeda, hence he was relying on jihadists from the region.
Since then the number of Syrian jihadists has increased. For instance, according to figures compiled by the author, Syrians formed a high proportion of the Salafi-Jihadists in Iraq, coming in second place by nationality with 13% of the Arab volunteers in Iraq. [4]
It seems that the activity of the Syrian Salafi-Jihadists was not limited to Iraq and Syria. They also formed a high proportion of jihadists acting on Lebanese soil before and during the confrontations at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp between the Lebanese authorities and militant Islamists in 2007. Syrians formed about 13% of those jihadists, after the Saudis with 16%, Palestinians from the refugee camps with 31%, and Lebanese with 33%. Seven per cent came from other sources. [5]
The increasing number of Syrian jihadists is also combined with the production of thousands of pages of literature theorizing a confrontation with the Syrian Alawite regime. The most well-known writings in this context are those of Abu Musa’b al-Suri (a.k.a. Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Sitt Maryam Nasr, currently believed to be imprisoned in Syria after rendition by the United States).
Al-Suri wrote several books on jihad in Syria and his vision of the Levant region, and Syria in particular, based on two levels: first, an intellectual theorizing, and at the second level, a focus  on strategies for a revolution or confrontation with the Syrian regime, which he sees as a kafir regime representing "Nusayris" (a pejorative term for Alawites) and Ba’athists. [6]
Following the death of Hafiz al-Assad, al-Suri wrote a book entitled Ahl as-Sunna fi’l-Sham fi Muwajihat al-Nusayria wa’l-Salibeen wa’l-Yahoud (The Sunni People in the Levant in the Face of Nasiriyah, Crusaders and Jews." Al-Suri focuses on two fundamental issues in this work: the “Nusayri” sect and its unjust dominion in Syria and the Syrian state apparatus in its entirety, which, according to al-Suri, is supported by the West to establish peace with Israel. Al-Suri sees a Sunni revolution in Syria as a strategic solution: “We must highlight the basic identity of this confrontation with the Alawi Nusayris, focusing the axis of confrontation towards the correct key to this jihadi conflict between truth and falsehood, [which] is the Sunnis in the face of the Alawi Nasiriyah."
Another well-known jihadi writer, Husain Bin Mahmoud, wrote a March 26 article entitled “Demashq: Qa’dat a-Jihad fi al-Ard” (Damascus: the Jihad Base on the Earth), in which he presented several hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad that emphasize the qualities of the Levant for jihadists, being the “land of faith and science,” the home of “the best soldiers on earth,” and “the best place to migrate to.” [7]
Stressing the sectarian understanding of the situation in Syria according to the jihadists’ perspective, Bin Mahmoud claims 80% of the people in Syria are Muslims who are being repressed by a “non-Muslim” Alawite minority and asks how a “despicable, humiliated minority became superiors of the best soldiers on the earth?” In answering himself, Bin Mahmoud says that the people of the Levant were humiliated when “they replaced the banner of jihad with [the banner of] national resistance, and replaced the identity of Islam with nationalism, and the doctrine of Islam with Ba’athism and socialism.”
Like most jihadists tackling the Syrian issue, Bin Mahmoud expects the people of Syria to have a role in jihad: “When the people of the Levant come back to the righteous, and the sound of bullets [is] exalted, and young people shout in the squares, ‘God is great,’ and the voices of minarets start to call for jihad, then I [will] preach the gospel of Muslims in the East and the West [that] infidels will be destroyed…and then woe to the infidels and its people from the soldiers of al-Sham.” 
Obviously, al-Qaeda and affiliated Salafi-Jihadist groups have an ideological and geopolitical perspective towards Syria, but their project is based on promoting a sectarian division inside Syria that is at odds with the Syrian protestors’ ambition of having a post-Assad democratic state. This has prevented the jihadists from exerting political influence during the on-going crisis despite the allegations of the regime
However, the violence that the regime is using to deal with protesters could serve as a source of radicalization that could activate the jihadists inside the country. If this happened, the Assad regime would face a political and security catastrophe by having to deal with “real” jihadists ready to engage the regime with violence.
By their peaceful political activity, the young protesters in Syria are building a barrier to prevent Salafi-Jihadists from making inroads into the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, the government is paving a way for their entry by its violent repression of a peaceful opposition movement.
Notes & References
-This article was published in the Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 9, Issue: 34, on 09/09/2011
Murad Batal al-Shishani is a London-based writer & commentator, expert on Islamic Groups
1. Quoted in Nikolaos van Dam, The Struggle For Power in Syrian: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba'th Party, I. B. Tauris, 1996, p.95.
2. Michael Weiss, Hannah Stuart and Samuel Hunter, The Syrian Opposition: Political analysis with original testimony from key figures, Henry Jackson Society, London, 2011
3. Al-Zawahri video message entitled Ei’zul Shariq Awaloh Demashq (the Glory of the East Begins with Damascus), disseminated on jihadist web forums on July 27. Downloaded from: .
4. The Saudis came in first with 53%. See Terrorism Monitor, December 2, 2005.
5. Figures compiled by the author from open sources.
6. The term “Nusayri” refers to followers of Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d. 863 AD).

Why U.S. Troops Should Stay In Iraq

By Meghan O’Sullivan
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images. BAGHDAD, IRAQ, MARCH 31: An Iraqi Army officer (R) holds the hand of a U.S Army officer during a handover ceremony at Camp Rustimiyah March 31, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq.
 An Iraqi Army officer (R) holds the hand of a U.S Army officer during a handover ceremony at Camp Rustimiyah March 31, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq
As America looks back on this 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Iraq looms large — and usually not in a good way. At best, it’s regarded as a distraction, a needless conflict that took America’s focus away from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda. At worst, the Iraq war is decried as a fiasco, the United States’ “greatest strategic disaster,” as retired Gen. William Odom, the former National Security Agency director, once put it.
There is no question that Iraq, as it stands today, has fallen short of American — and Iraqi — hopes and expectations. And there is no question that the costs of the war, for both sides, have been greater than anticipated. Even so, Iraq’s achievements — including the establishment of representative institutions against all odds — are hardly minor. The country could still become mired in a civil conflict that destabilizes the region. But it is equally or even more conceivable that, with relatively small amounts of continued U.S. support, the greatest strategic benefits of the Iraq intervention will materialize in the next several years. And these benefits would more than justify an ongoing U.S. military presence there.
This belief about Iraq’s strategic potential is not based on the naivete that underpinned many optimistic assessments before the war, and it is rooted in firmer ground than the desperate hopes of someone, like me, who has devoted much of the past decade to U.S. efforts in Iraq. While by no means inevitable, there are at least three ways in which Iraq has only just begun to show its strategic value.
First, Iraq can offer a great deal toward ensuring that the nascent transitions from dictatorships to more accountable governance in the region succeed over the long term. Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans — and perhaps eventually Syrians and Yemenis — have an advantage over Iraqis in the sense that they carry none of the baggage that comes with having a regime removed by the armed forces of an external power. But they will face many of the same challenges tackled by the Iraqis over the past eight years: how to hold members of the former regime accountable without stripping society of the expertise needed to rebuild the country; how to manage a political transition amid competing pressures for both quick results and inclusive processes; and how to deal with elements of the former regime determined to unseat the new order.
For sure, Iraqis — and we Americans — did not meet these challenges without mistakes and missteps. But Iraq’s lessons can help other countries of the Arab world make smoother, more successful transitions. Even before the Arab Spring, Arab intellectuals had begun looking to Iraq’s experience to gain insights into their own challenges.
Second, Iraq, perhaps paradoxically, is now one of the Middle Eastern countries best positioned to maintain ties with the West and with the United States in particular — no small matter in a region where U.S. strategic allies have almost literally disappeared overnight. The eight years since the ouster of Saddam Hussein have been traumatic both to Iraqis and Americans. But at the same time, the shared experience has built relationships and sympathies between the two populations that run deep. Even Americans who lament the U.S. intervention in Iraq must realize that their country made a large investment there and that there are benefits to some sort of ongoing relationship.
The Iraqi view of the United States is more complex. Even while there is real resentment, in private many Iraqi officials recognize that a continued relationship is important to the future stability and prosperity of their country. This mutual understanding is enshrined in the Strategic Framework Agreement of 2008, which pledges robust, nonmilitary cooperation between the two nations for the long term. A close U.S.-Iraqi relationship may be an important asset as other countries in the region draw further away from the United States, rejecting the policies of their former authoritarian, but pro-American, regimes.
Finally, and most compelling, there is the role that Iraq may play in averting a major global energy crisis in the coming years. The world economic recession eased pressure on global oil supplies and provided relief from the climbing energy prices of 2007 and 2008. But a quiet trend of 2010 was that growth in global oil consumption grew at the second-fastest rate ever, 2.8 percent, while growth in global crude oil production lagged behind at 2.5 percent. If demand continues to outgrow supply, it will be only a few short years before global spare capacity of oil — one of the indicators most closely tied to prices — gets dangerously low, and jittery markets push prices up and up. Assuming the world escapes another dip in economic growth, this outcome would probably materialize even without any additional geopolitical hiccups, such as political unrest in Saudi Arabia or a military confrontation with Iran.
Iraq is one of a very small number of countries that could bring oil online fast enough to help the world meet this growing demand at a reasonable price. In fact, major energy institutions and international oil companies are already assuming that Iraq will significantly increase its oil production in the coming decade. The International Energy Agency expects Iraq to nearly double its production in the next decade, from roughly 2.5 million barrels per day to 4.8 million barrels per day; BP’s 2030 global assessments are based on similar assumptions.
Such assessments are not pie in the sky. Yes, the claims made in 2003 that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction with oil turned out to be woefully inaccurate; the country struggled to maintain its production in the face of decrepit infrastructure and a determined insurgency for nearly six years after the invasion. But in the past two years, Iraq has made impressive, if incomplete, progress in developing its vast oil resources. It has signed 11contracts with international oil companies geared toward increasing production more than four-fold to over 12 million barrels a day — more than Saudi Arabia produces today. Few analysts expect Iraq to reach these levels, because of infrastructure bottlenecks and political obstacles. But most still expect a significant increase in production, and they acknowledge that without it, the global economy could be in trouble.
If lessons from Iraq’s difficult experience help stabilize the region, if Iraq remains one of a rapidly dwindling number of Arab countries willing to cooperate with the United States publicly and privately, and if the development of Iraq’s oil resources help the world avoid another energy crisis, some may recalculate the strategic ledger on the U.S. intervention in Iraq.
These potential strategic contributions make a compelling case for maintaining support for Iraq at a time when most Americans are more than ready to let the Iraqis sink or swim on their own. Iraq no longer needs the enormous volumes of U.S. financial, political and military assistance of the previous eight years. But, as a fragile state whose institutions are still vulnerable, Iraq could benefit greatly from a relatively small, continued investment of resources and time.
While the military component of this investment need not be large, it is critical to shoring up Iraq’s nascent armed forces against extremist threats. And in demonstrating America’s continued interest in Iraq’s trajectory, this assistance would buttress Iraq’s political and security institutions.
The Obama administration and Iraqi leaders are grappling with the question of whether all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, as stipulated in the current bilateral security agreement. The alternative is a different legal arrangement for a small number of U.S. troops — perhaps 10,000 — to stay and help Iraq’s security forces train and deal with challenges that they still cannot adequately address on their own.
Recent news reports suggest that the Obama administration has already decided to limit the number of American troops it would keep in Iraq to as few as 3,000. This is disheartening on several levels. First, troop numbers should come out of negotiations with the Iraqis over the necessary missions — not as a fiat from Washington based on domestic politics. Second, it is not clear what such a small force could accomplish while still protecting itself. And finally, it calls into question whether the Obama administration really understands the opportunities and imperatives it is presented with in Iraq.
-This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 09/09/2011- Meghan O’Sullivan served as President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. She is now the Jeane Kirkpatrick professor of the practice of international affairs at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

The Libyan Oil Tap

Bringing Libyan crude oil back to market will ease world prices and provide much-needed funding for Libya's new government. But getting the pumps flowing again will not be easy.
By Edward L. Morse and Eric G. Lee
When the unrest in Libya began this spring, international oil companies and their foreign personnel fled the country. Libya's oil exports ground to a halt, removing approximately 1.6 million barrels per day of light, sweet crude -- low-sulfur oil that is more easily transformed into high-value products like gasoline and diesel -- from global oil markets. The West Texas Intermediate crude oil price inched up to the $80 per barrel level in mid-February, increasing to $86 per barrel by early April, but the Brent crude index, against which Libya's light, sweet crude is generally priced -- surged from around $95 per barrel in the winter of 2010 to over $110 per barrel in late February. It topped $120 per barrel in April.
Libya's oil production is modest in total, but it plays a huge role in the world's supply of high-quality crude. (Of the estimated 12.5 million barrels produced per day, African countries account for 42 percent. Of the African producers, Libya has one of the largest shares.) Global demand for light, sweet crude is growing -- especially in emerging markets, where it is used for transportation fuel and as an alternative source for power generation. The return of Libyan crude to oil markets should ease oil prices, particularly for Brent crude.
This could happen sooner than expected. The end of the conflict in Libya is in sight. The rebel movement, the National Transitional Council, has captured Tripoli and is preparing to establish a new government. Oil revenues will be crucial for the NTC, so the leadership will try to get wells flowing as soon as possible. Before the conflict, such revenue accounted for almost all of Libya's export earnings and a quarter of its GDP. Without it, the new government will be harder pressed to resume basic services or reconstruct the country's damaged infrastructure, even as a supportive international community unfreezes Libya's sizable foreign assets.
Getting Libyan crude oil back to market will not be easy, however. Security, law and order, and political stability must be ensured before international companies return. The NTC has largely pacified Tripoli, but there is continued resistance in Muammar al-Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte and in areas bordering Tunisia. Although Libya's tribes and factions came together to rise up against Qaddafi, they could fracture after the fighting is over, leading to renewed bloodshed. Indeed, there are already tensions. In July, Abdel Fatah Younes, a rebel commander, was assassinated, supposedly by another rebel faction.
On the technical side of resuming operations, even where oil fields and facilities were relatively untouched there remains the danger of mines, which Qaddafi's forces laid around the rigs as they retreated. Less concerning, but still cause for delay, is the physical deterioration of the wells, which have been neglected for months now. For instance, electrical submersible pumps that sit at the bottom of wells deep underground must be lifted to the surface and cleaned regularly, which is especially important in Libyan wells, given the waxier nature of the crude there. Having been left offline for months, certain wells could require significant workovers before production can be restarted.
Before the conflict, Libya's crude oil came from three main sites -- the Sirte, Murzuk, and Pelagian basins. The Sirte basin, located in eastern Libya, accounted for two-thirds of the country's crude output. Agoco, a subsidiary of the national oil company, was producing around 450,000 barrels per day in total before the fighting broke out, a significant proportion of which -- some 250,000 barrels per day -- came from the Sarir and Misla fields in the Sirte basin. The fields in the Sirte basin are among Libya's oldest and most geologically complex, but they could also be the soonest to come back online. Rebel forces have already repaired the damaged facilities and pipelines at those fields, and could begin exporting oil again as early as mid-September.
The Murzuk basin in the southwest consists of newer, less complex oil fields. The fields there are not believed to have sustained much damage, but rebel forces cut the pipeline between them and the Azzawiya refinery close to Tripoli in late June to deprive Qaddafi's forces of gasoline. Until the pipeline damage is assessed and repaired, the light, sweet crude output from the fields in the Murzuk basin (over 400,000 barrels per day prior to the conflict) will be trapped there.
The Pelagian Shelf basin, off the coast of Tripoli, was spared from the fighting, so operations there could resume fairly quickly. And these fields export oil via tanker, so their output would be readily available. However, both fields produce heavier, sourer crude, akin to Saudi Arabia's. High in sulfur, this oil is harder and more costly to refine into high-value fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and its return to market should put less downward pressure on Brent oil prices than lighter, sweeter crude.
Although many details remain unresolved, the NTC has already declared that Libya will honor its existing oil production contracts with international companies. For their part, the international oil companies have made encouraging noises about how quickly they could resume production. Eni, which produced some 270,000 barrels of oil per day total in Libya before the fighting, has suggested that it could restart operations quickly at its offshore facilities in the Pelagian Shelf basin and that it could reopen its onshore facilities in a matter of months, depending on damage assessments.
Eni has been particularly proactive in building ties with the NTC, agreeing to provide gasoline and diesel for early reconstruction efforts, as well as fuel, medical, and technical supplies, in return for payment in crude later on. Among the other European companies, the German firm Wintershall (producing 100,000 barrels per day before the conflict) and the Spanish firm Repsol (producing 350,000 barrels per day before the conflict) have also suggested that their operations could be restarted in a matter of weeks.
Some observers have noted that Brazil, China, and Russia -- who are keen to develop the country's oil resources -- might have a harder time convincing the NTC to allow them back into the country, due to their lackluster support for the rebels during the conflict. If these countries offer the NTC reconstruction support, however, it could offset the NTC's unease. But Gazprom initially did the opposite, stating that it would not return until a "legitimate" regime governed the country. Since then, however, the company has made the conciliatory gesture of providing a shipment of gasoil to the rebels, and Russia has given diplomatic recognition to the NTC.
A prudent assessment of the various statements made by Libya's national oil company and foreign companies suggests that the country could be producing 400,000 barrels per day by early 2012, and upward of 800,000 barrels per day by the end of 2012. A return to full production levels as seen before the civil war could take 12 to 18 months. However, a quicker rebound in Libyan supply in the near term would put downward pressure on Brent crude prices, should help reduce the spreads between sweet and sour prices, and could perhaps even reduce the spread between the West Texas Intermediate and Brent prices. This could be a welcome relief for consumers in a sputtering global economy, and could help ease inflation in emerging markets like China.
Domestically, the NTC's legitimacy will depend on how it manages oil revenues moving forward. Under Qaddafi, Libya's vast oil wealth did not reach the majority of citizens. This was one of the underlying drivers of unrest this spring. As Libyan crude returns to the market, there are grounds for cautious optimism that the NTC will use its revenues for much needed post-conflict reconstruction. At the moment, such a move would benefit everyone.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Affairs on 06/09/2011
-EDWARD L. MORSE heads global commodity research at Citi. ERIC G. LEE is a research analyst at Citi

Bin Laden Made News Not History

The West faces a host of urgent tasks — the first being to reassert diplomacy's place in international politics
By David Miliband
A Pakistani man hangs photos of Osama Bin Laden
  A Pakistani man hangs photos of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden taken by Pakistani photographer Mazhar Ali Khan, displayed at National Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan.(AP)
Ten years after September 11, the instant history is being written. In the French newspaper Le Monde, a highly intelligent commemorative supplement dubbed the period The Decade of Bin Laden. But is that right?
In the ten years since September 11, the combined GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs) rose from 8.4 per cent of the global economy to 18.3 per cent. Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism crashed.
Moreover, it was the decade when internet access went global — from 360 million people in 2000 to more than two billion people today. It was a time when the war in Iraq divided the world, but also when a civilian surge for freedom finally hit the Middle East, as millions of Muslims turned for inspiration to democratic governance, not global jihad.
None of this was the doing of Bin Laden. To be sure, Al Qaida was (and is) a new and serious kind of threat. Born of 30 years of tumult in the Muslim world, Al Qaida has a worldview, not just a local view. It aspires not just to change, but to revolution.
The notion of a ‘war on terror' in reply was misguided in part because it allowed people to think that Al Qaida was just another terrorist group like the IRA, the Baader-Meinhof gang, or the Red Brigades. It wasn't — and isn't. But it also aggrandised Bin Laden's claims to be a history maker.
I don't see any alternative to our determination, in 2001, to drive the Taliban from control of Afghanistan. The tragedy is that, once that battle was won, the peace was lost. The Bonn conference of December 2001, called to draft a new Afghan constitution, excluded the vanquished. Whereas America built its own democracy from below, on federalist principles, Afghanistan had imposed upon it one of the most centralised states in the world — despite being one of the world's most decentralised societies.
Tragically, the signals from former Taliban in their southern Afghan stronghold of Kandahar — a demand to be left alone in exchange for staying out of politics — were misread. They were driven into Pakistan, where they reconvened.
The West faces urgent tasks — the first being to reassert diplomacy's place in international politics. The late US statesman Richard Holbrooke once said to me that America since September 11 has suffered a ‘militarisation of diplomacy.' We now need the opposite. In a world of asymmetric threats, we should follow the US defence department's field manual: in counterinsurgency, politics require primacy. Second, the West must rethink its notions of a balance of power, because they no longer concern just states, but also peoples. As the Arab Spring has shown, the ubiquity of information means that future coalitions need to be formed at the micro-level, in villages and valleys of Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than only at the macro-level, in terms of how we manage the global system.
Third, we are entering an era of resource scarcity. Aside from the atomic bomb, this is the most dangerous security development in two centuries. If you think the blame game in Europe over Greece is bad, just wait for arguments about who is causing drought and food-price inflation. These are not just ‘environmental' questions. They are questions of justice and responsibility, and stronger regional and international institutions are needed to address them.
Finally, the West must rediscover the joys of multilateralism and shared sovereignty. That is tough when, in Europe, nobody wants to pay Greece's bills. But multilateralism is a global insurance policy against abuse of power by any state. The problem is not that the European Union and other multilateral institutions are too strong; it is that they are too weak. Indeed, regional institutions in the Arab world, Africa, Latin America, and East Asia are still in their infancy — and need to grow up fast.
Over the past few centuries, there have been three systems of international order: economic and military domination; a balance of power; and shared sovereignty. They can coexist, as they more or less did in the years after 1945 in various parts of the world. But America today is on the back foot, economically and militarily. New powers like China and India are rising, not risen, mixing assertiveness with emphasis on their continued ‘developing' status. Europe, where shared sovereignty has been embraced, is struggling to solve its own problems, never mind becoming a global player.
A century ago, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Angell argued in The Great Illusion that economic security enables military expansion, not vice-versa. In fact, neither is achievable without political vision. That is the most important lesson of the post-September 11 decade.— Project Syndicate, 2011
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 10/11/2011
-David Miliband, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom from 2007-2010, is a British member of Parliament

Doom And Gloom

Interpreting the American public mood on the 9/11 decade.
By Shibley Telhami
War and fear of terrorism has weighed heavily on the American public mood in the decade since 9/11, with a majority of Americans expressing the view that the country's influence around the world has declined and that the United States has overinvested in its reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11. According to a poll I co-directed with Steven Kull, the public wants to see full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (even if the Iraqi government asks for American troops to stay) and it wants a reduction in the presence in Afghanistan.
In some ways, this is a stunning shift. The 1990s saw unprecedented American power and influence, a period when the United States basked in the glow of having won the Cold War and successfully confronted the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by building an extraordinary and unprecedented international coalition. Add economic expansion and prosperity, and it is hard to find a decade when America reigned more supreme.
But 9/11, as we all recall, put paid to that: shattering a sense of confidence and imbuing the public with an instant sense vulnerability and helplessness. Within days of that day, I was summoned for consultation with a congressional leader in his office to hear him declare what many had feared: "this can defeat us."
Then came the invasion of Afghanistan. The triumphalism over the relatively quick collapse of the Taliban regime in Kabul was seen by some as arrogance -- but it was largely about rejuvenating public confidence and re-asserting American power. While Americans continued to feel vulnerable to terrorism, that initial sense of helplessness and yes, weakness, lasted but a few weeks. It was replaced by B-52s bombers over Tora Bora, which appeared to accomplish in mere days what the Soviet Union failed to in years. And that mood continued through the "shock and awe" bombings of Baghdad, climaxing in George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" speech.
What followed in Iraq -- the anarchy, the mounting U.S. casualties, the bloody internecine terrorism, the extraordinary sectarian violence -- quickly revealed not only that the mission was far from accomplished but also the limits of military power. Meanwhile, the persistence of the Taliban in Afghanistan only added to this sense of limits. Even the killing of Osama bin Laden was a double-edged sword: While the operation was cause for celebration, it was also a reminder that it took the world's only superpower 10 years to find the most wanted terrorist -- despite unprecedented efforts and expenditures (only to find that he was hiding under the noses of its presumptive ally, the Pakistani Army). Thus, in our poll, we find that while most Americans feel that the killing of bin Laden has weakened al Qaeda somewhat, most don't believe the organization is significantly weaker. And a majority of Americans feel not only that United States has overinvested in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but also that it has overinvested in building alliances in the war on terrorism.
There was an additional irony in the killing of bin Laden and the legacy he left behind. On the one hand, he lived long enough to watch his nightmare come true, especially in the Arab world, where largely peaceful demonstrations seeking dignity, freedom, and democracy succeeded in doing what he and many of his allies failed to do for years. On the other hand, bin Laden said all along that his strategy was to draw the United States into overextending itself, into revealing its vulnerability, to make it feel the pain. Ten years on, the public mood in the United States reflects the sense that he may have partly succeeded.
Among the tolls of the past decade is a fractured U.S. public. If 9/11 brought Americans together in the early weeks and months following the tragedy, one of the casualties has been national unity. On almost all issues, there are significant differences in the attitudes of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, on both issues of opinion and fact. A plurality of Republicans (43 percent) remain convinced that Saddam Hussein provided substantial support to al Qaeda, and 41 percent (compared with 15 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of independents) believe that Iraq possessed actual weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war. A majority of Republicans continue to feel that the Iraq war was justified, while Democrats and Independents take the opposite position. These attitudes are also reflected on a host of other issues, including attitudes toward terrorism, Islam, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Overall, the American public mood adds up to an increasing isolationism -- a reluctance to intervene internationally or even, in some cases, take sides in foreign conflicts. This is reflected in attitudes toward the Arab uprisings. In a previous poll conducted this April, the American public had a somewhat positive view of the Arab uprisings. A plurality in our newest poll believes that these uprisings are both about ordinary people seeking freedom and democracy and Islamist groups seeking power.
That's not to say that Americans don't have a favorable view of the "Arab people". Of those who want the United States to express its position in the conflicts between the Arab demonstrators and their governments, a strong majority wants the U.S. to support the demonstrators in every country we asked about, including Saudi Arabia. And yet, the overwhelming majority of the whole group of Americans polled does not want the United States to take sides at all, perhaps reflecting fear of a slippery slope leading to military intervention, or at least to more over-investment, particularly at a time of economic crisis.
Attitudes toward Islam and Muslims have also changed significantly over the past decade. Strikingly, right after 9/11, more Americans had a positive view of the Islamic religion than a negative view. Over the decade, this sentiment has turned sour, with our latest poll recording a majority of Americans holding a negative view of Islam, including many of those who didn't have an opinion in the past who now have negative views.
This is despite the fact that a stable majority continues to think that the 9/11 attacks did not represent the intentions of mainstream Islam; that most Americans view the conflict between Islam and the West as driven more by political than cultural factors; and that most express confidence that it is possible to find common ground between Islam and the West (though this is down somewhat from late 2001). And the American public's attitudes toward the Muslim people are relatively warm, with a plurality (nearly half) expressing positive views of Muslims.
Whether or not the Arab uprisings this year will continue to project ordinary Arabs and Muslims seeking what ordinary Americans themselves hold dear -- freedom and democracy -- and continue to have a positive impact on American public attitudes remains to be seen. Whether or not the 9/11 paradigm that still holds fast regarding Arab and Muslims will be replaced by an Arab Spring paradigm will depend much on how events unfold in the streets and capitals of the Middle East in the weeks and months ahead. But what seems to be clear is that it's less 9/11 itself than the long, bloody, and complicated response to it over the past decade that has taken its toll on the American mood.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 09/09/2011
-Shibley Telhami is Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University Of Maryland and a non-resident senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution

Syria’s Cyber-Thugs

Pro-Assad Syrian spammers swarm Facebook pages of Newsweek, Al Jazeera and other media websites in what turns out to be a rather clumsy attempt to orchestrate public opinion in favor of the embattled dictator. Brian Ries reports on the latest weapon wielded by desperate despots.
By Brian Ries
Mideast Syria
   Syrian supporters of President Bashar Assad demonstrate in Damascus on Aug. 22, 2011., Muzaffar (AP)
The embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pulled no punches in holding on to power throughout the country’s months-long uprising.
First, street thugs beat back the protesters. Then, tanks. Now, Assad has apparently turned to an army of mostly anonymous propagandists to sway public opinion in his favor on the Facebook pages of Western media organizations.
We’ve seen this Syrian Electronic Army, as it’s been dubbed, firsthand.
On Wednesday afternoon, a wave of several hundred Assad supporters stormed onto Newsweek’s Facebook page with a clear message: Syria is fine. Mind your own business.
But based on our inside look at the swarm, coupled with a brief investigation into the recent activity of the perpetrators, we can reveal how these pro-Syrian cyberthugs operate in their attempt to sway Western opinion.
This is nothing but Internet spam.
For us, it began just after 4 p.m. ET, when Newsweek page moderators posted a story from this week’s issue on the Newsweek/Daily Beast website. Moments later, the thread’s comments count uncharacteristically skyrocketed.
Nearly all the posts, it soon became clear, were broken-English commentary about the Syrian people’s love for Assad. Matching the Syrian government’s talking points, they blamed “terrorist elements” for the much-denounced crackdown on protesters, decried Western intervention, and demanded the Syrian people be permitted to maintain course, with Assad at the helm.
The same comments quickly appeared on the magazine’s public Facebook wall, where spammers left blood-soaked YouTube videos of murdered Syrian citizens—killed, the spammers alleged, at the hands of Al Qaeda.
But with names like “Roben Hood” and “Hamody Syrian,” all touting eerily carbon-copy comments supporting the embattled Syrian government, it became clear the users were pawns in a coordinated spam campaign set loose by propagandists working on behalf of Assad. Within 20 minutes, page moderators tracked upward of 1,000 comments or links left on the page by spammers, and began the process of filtering and removing their work.
Some, however, managed to stick around and make their case for the swarm in a corresponding thread.
“We are sorry for bothering you but really we want you to know the truth about Syria,” wrote one such spammer, whose Facebook profile picture is of Assad himself. “In Syria there is a big plot there is no revolution.”
Another user, writing in the same thread, denied our claim they were spammers. “We are not spam we are her[e] just to say the [truth]. We are syrian pepole [sic] and we love bashar alassad. So leave syria alone.”
Neither responded to requests to comment further.
Looking through the recent activity of some of the users—who, it seems, failed to lock down their Facebook privacy setting—sit appears this wasn’t their first Syrian rodeo.
Many were fans of similar pro-government pages, some of which were coordinating the spammers’ swarms.
On one such Page, “Syrian People in U.S.A.,” users were implored to visit the Facebook Page of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to share “the truth about what’s going on in Syria” (roughly translated). A look, then, at their public wall reveals waves of the same comments Newsweek received: “Syria’s a sovereign nation and its people have absolute freedom to choose the president without any interference from one,” and “President alassad will teach u the principles of treating politely with ur masters.”
A further glance through the recent activity of many of these spammers also reveals similar activity on various Al Jazeera pages, Euronews, and a coordinated campaign to sway a poll led by Anderson Cooper 360. There, on the question “Should the UN Security council intervene in Syria?” spammers appeared to have skewed the poll by answering “NO” in waves—leading to a near 50-50 result on the 50,000 responses to date.
Even Nicholas D. Kristof, the globe-trotting New York Times columnist with a more than 200,000 following on Facebook, received the same spam. His page lit up Monday afternoon with similar YouTube videos alongside claims of an infiltration of terrorist cells into Syria.
Facebook, for its part, is on the case.
A source there, speaking anonymously due to company policy preventing commenting on actions taken against users or pages, tells me they’ve been actively investigating the Syrian spammers and disabling any pages being used to coordinate these attacks.
As far as the company can tell, the vast majority of the spamming is indeed coming from real Facebook users—not bots—but they don’t currently have any more information on who is behind the campaign. Some believe the online army got a shout-out from Assad himself in a speech earlier this June, when he referenced “the electronic army which has been a real army in virtual reality.”
If recent history is a valid indication, the orders may be coming directly from Damascus.
During the waning days of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, Vodaphone customers mysteriously received pro-government text messages in the midst of the clashes between protesters and authorities. Vodafone Egypt eventually blamed the emergency powers provisions and called it unacceptable.
And in the weeks before the fall of Tripoli, Libyans reportedly began receiving emails warning of NATO planes and imploring fighters to defend the capital. “There is a plan to divide Libya into three or more zones by NATO,” one email read. “Be careful and spread the message to stop the injustice of NATO.” A rebel sympathizer at the Libyan Youth Movement wrote at the time, “We must not let this propoganda, regardless of how convincing (or not) it sounds, sway our efforts in any way.”
While it is unlikely these swarms will have any effect on public opinion, it’s clear that armies of human spammers are the newest weapons in the weakening grip of teetering despots.
At the very least, they’re good for an old-fashioned commenter fight. After a user on Newsweek’s page commented on the good looks of Assad’s wife, one of the spammers replied with a classic border-spanning defend-the-dictator insult.
“F--k u,” the Syrian spammer wrote. “Bashar alassad. Too much good.”
Bots, after all, can’t swap insults.
-This article was published in The Daily Beast on 08/09/2011
-Brian Ries is senior social-media editor at Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn with his two cats, Peter Ike Lee and Lucky Mr. Loki. His Twitter account is not yet verified

Palestine At The United Nations… The Long Path Of Wisdom

By Raghida Dergham in New York
This month, New York will witness the first comprehensive international gathering since the astounding Arab Awakening in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, which started earlier this year and which has unsettled and embarrassed many a major power.
At the forefront of such powers, are none other than Russia and China, given their stances resisting regime change in Libya and Syria. Then there is the United States, now tainted by embarrassment from the standpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli question, because of its resistance to the accession of the state of Palestine to the United Nations, and after having failed to persuade Israel to stop illegal settlement activity. For no matter what the Palestinian strategy shall bring about, whether in terms of full accession to the UN or the recognition of Palestinian statehood, the vast majority of countries are fully aware that the U.S. administration dares not implement the pledges and promises it has made, exactly because of the Israel lobby’s huge influence in U.S. elections.
Consider the case of South Sudan, which became the 193rd member of the United Nations in an incredibly swift manner, following a political decision that the Obama administration helped impose as a fait accompli. By contrast, Palestine shall not be the 194th member of the international organization, also because of an American political decision coupled with threats and warnings, along the lines of suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority. These double standards cause embarrassment within the U.S. administration itself, due to the impunity continually afforded to the government of Israel, while granting the latter whatever it may ask. This is true even when Israel challenges U.S. national interests with its intransigence and resistance to the two-state solution, over which there is consensus in the international community today. Here, the weakest link are the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and also the Palestinian Authority. For this reason, it may be in line with Palestinian interests not to go too far in embarrassing the Obama administration and losing its good faith as a result, something that would translate into a gift directly given to the Israeli government. It may thus be best for the Palestinians to help maintain the unified European position over their cause, and invest in the U.S. administration by means of a cumulative strategy that would ultimately lead to the admission of the Palestinian state to the United Nations.
Such a strategy, if coupled with an awareness campaign and a peaceful effort to lobby international public opinion – including the Israeli public opinion-, could lead to isolating the Israeli government and robbing it of its dream of a U.S.-Palestinian estrangement, and the fragmentation of pertinent European stances, which have so far been coherent with regard to the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. In such a manner, the Palestinian Authority would also be acting with a sense of collective responsibility towards the Arab developments as they are being raised on the international scene. For instance, Libya is still in ‘intensive care’, and it requires the best efforts of the international community so as not to fall prey to neglect or the hasty assumption that it has now fully recovered. Then there is Syria, which is currently proving to be a major challenge for the international community, particularly since Russia and China continue to oppose any serious pressure on the government of Mr. Bashar al-Assad, while bearing in mind that both countries have since backtracked on their defiance with regard to the Libyan question. It is best here for Palestine not to be used once again as a bargaining chip for barters and one-upmanship, and for the Palestinian leadership to be afforded good faith, instead of compromising it.
In this vein, rumors about the conduciveness of Lebanon’s presidency of the Security Council to the Palestinian issue fall but under exaggeration, sycophancy, and political grandstanding. For one thing, the U.S. administration has made it clear that it would use its veto power to prevent the Security Council from adopting a resolution on Palestinian statehood, even if the resolution is to be supported by 14 members, and this may not happen if the Europeans see a flaw in the Palestinian strategy or a deliberate effort therein to embarrass Washington just for the sake of it.
If the Palestinian strategy opts to go to the Security Council, the procedures in force require the Palestinians to make a formal request to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to make a recommendation to the Security Council to favorably consider the admission of Palestine as a member to the UN. The Security Council would subsequently have to issue a resolution recommending, in turn, the General Assembly to approve the request. But since the United States has made it unequivocally clear that it would prevent the Security Council from issuing such a resolution, Lebanon’s presidency is meaningless here save for the fact that it would be presiding over a session of failure, of political confrontation with the United States, and of losing European unity over solidarity with the Palestinian cause. This is hardly an achievement.
But perhaps Damascus and Tehran would find that to be indeed an achievement, as it would expose American duplicity. However, this would not help the Palestinians under occupation in any way, nor would it help them regain their occupied territories.
Incidentally, Lebanon, in turn, is in the sphere of embarrassment, with the policy of evasiveness that it adopts with regard to the Syrian issue at the Security Council. For instance, Lebanon has dissociated itself from the presidential statement endorsed unanimously by the remainder of the Security Council members. Lebanon is thus escaping forward with regard to the draft resolution being currently discussed among the members of the Security Council (This is while noting that Russia wants such a statement to merely be a call for engaging in a political process, while holding the opposition and the authorities jointly responsible for violence in Syria). By contrast, the Western nations are seeking a resolution that truly puts pressure on Damascus, with sanctions and condemnation, while refusing to hold civilians responsible for the crackdown and killing as carried out by the Syrian authorities.
Lebanon then, has not been spared the pain of embarrassment, nor does it hold the fate of Palestine’s bid for UN membership except in a mere procedural and rather negative manner, if the Palestinian Authority indeed chooses to go to the Security Council.
In fact, there are Arab states in the follow-up committee headed by Qatar, which are pushing the Palestinian Authority towards confrontation with the United States, in the Security Council and beyond. Some of these countries are offering alternative funding to that of the United States, should the latter decide on suspending aid to the Palestinians, and thus perceive confrontation as a means to buying off the Palestinian Cause and Palestinian leadership for ends that serve their regional and pan-Islamic ambitions around the world.
The President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas must first study in depth whether it is in the interest of the Palestinians to lose both the American weight and influence in the battle for the two-state solution and putting an end to Israeli occupation of the territories captured in 1967, and second, he must think carefully about whether he wants to become symbolic or marginal, should he ‘delegate’ the reins of the Palestinian fate to another side, even if the latter consists of one or several Arab countries.
These are questions of momentous proportions, and Abu Mazen must mull them carefully as he studies the options of Palestinian self-determination. These are questions that the Palestinians must answer, if the Palestinian President chooses the path of ‘delegation’.
With regard to the quandary of ‘going there willy-nilly’, i.e. the fact that the Palestinian leadership has chosen to go to the United Nations come rain or come shine, it seems that there can now be no escape from that for political reasons. However, there are many ways to turn the embarrassment that the Palestinian Authority has caused for itself into some kind of an achievement.
For instance, the Palestinian Authority can go directly to the General Assembly, currently headed by Nassir Al-Nasser (Qatar), with a draft resolution that would ensure one hundred percent support by all EU member states, rendering it extremely difficult for the United States to vote against it or even abstain from voting. The goal of such a resolution would be to build a solid platform for the bid for Palestinian membership in the United Nations, as part of a long-term strategy that includes milestones for the mobilization of governments and public opinions in the course of its march.
Thus, a Palestinian strategy like this one would ensure unity among European stances, would show good faith to the U.S. administration, and would rob those who engage in political one-upmanship of the chance to manipulate Palestinian fate for their narrow ends. Today, there are 126 countries that have recognized the Palestinian state. If anything, this is a testimony in favor of the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state, and to ridding themselves of the occupation that is essentially a violation of basic human rights.
Because it is so, the Palestinian strategy can work hand in hand with international human rights organizations. In truth, the latter in today’s world wield huge influence in terms of altering the course of oppression and ousting tyrants. These organizations are bold, and have a global reach, and it is high time for them to be welcomed as partners in the legitimate Palestinian aspirations.
Then there is the Palestinian Spring, which troubles Israel especially if takes on a peaceful form, as with civil disobedience. There is also a significant movement within Israel and among the Jewish organizations in the United States and Europe, which are proclaiming resoundingly that Palestine has a right to statehood, and to ending the occupation that has lasted more than 40 years.
A cumulative approach is therefore more advantageous to Palestinian aspirations that a strategy of confrontation or an impetuous diplomacy. Here, President Mahmoud Abbas remains a safety valve for these aspirations, as he is aware of the tragedies engendered by involving the Palestinians in armed confrontations or turning their country into a battlefield for a proxy war. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has delivered on his promise to build the institutions of the Palestinian state, and he is also aware of the importance of continued European-American support for this endeavor, financially, politically and morally. These two men carry on their shoulders the responsibility for the salvation of the Palestinian people from occupation and for the establishment of their independent state, and the international community is committed to supporting their aspirations, whether the U.S. Congress accepts this or not.
The fact of the matter is that this Congress serves as a testimony of how the world’s only superpower can be thwarted from acting in manner that suits its prominence and leadership. It is a source of embarrassment for the American people, because the U.S. Congress seems to be perpetually unable to think in the logic of American national interests, so long as it is focused on self-interest. The U.S. Congress is also hostile to the Palestinians, and appears to be in an aggressive and harmful temper today, so it is best to avoid providing it with more pretexts for further vindictiveness. It suffices to rob it of this pleasure, if not of the ability to instill animosity with the Palestinians and to force the Obama administration to follow suit.
The priorities of Mahmoud Abbas must include preserving what has already been achieved, without making excuses for the U.S. Congress or the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is currently experiencing isolation and extreme embarrassment. The kind of approach followed in going to the United Nations may perhaps help end Israel’s isolation, if the wrong choice is made, and may step up this isolation, if the right decision is taken.
The Palestinian President is not in a predicament. He is in the process of maintaining the independence of the Palestinian decision-making process. And herein lie the difficulties, and the wager on making the right decision.
-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 09/09/2011
-Raghida Dergham is the UN correspondent of al-Hayat in New York