Israel/Palestine: the Prince, the President, the Activist, the Pope and the Writer

December 4, 2018


In June the Duke of Cambridge – the first senior member of the royal family to make an official visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – was asked by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to take a “message of peace” to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Rivlin has made a point of reaching out to Israel’s Arab minority, saying that they form a “bridge to peaceful coexistence” with the Palestinians. He is a popular figure who enjoys cross-party support though his outspoken opinions have led to a series of disputes with key figures in the Israeli government.

He said to Prince William: “I would like you to send him a message of peace. And tell him it is about time that we have to find together a way to build confidence.

“To build confidence as a first step to bring to an understanding that we have to bring to an end the tragedy between us that goes along for more than 120 years.” 

William said in a speech at the British embassy in Tel Aviv: “Never has hope and reconciliation been more needed. I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbours, for a just and lasting peace.”

Uri Avnery, who died in October, was described in a Haaretz obituary as one of the first Israelis to extend a hand to the Arab minority.

He co-founded Gush Shalom (Hebrew for the Peace Bloc), a pressure group and published an English-language version of the column titled “Who the Hell Are We?” The group advocates the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and describes itself as “the hard core of the Israeli peace movement.”

After fighting as a commando in Israel’s 1948 war of independence and being seriously wounded, he emerged with a conviction that the new Jewish state was part of the Middle East, not the West, and needed to live in peace with its Arab neighbours.

He was one of the first proponents of the “two-state solution”, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side with open borders and Jerusalem as their joint capital, which would become the basis of peace negotiations decades later: “The war totally convinced me there’s a Palestinian people, and that peace must be forged first and foremost with them. To achieve that goal, a Palestinian nation-state had to be established.”

In July 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, he crossed the front lines in besieged Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel’s arch-enemy. It was allegedly the first time that Arafat had met an Israeli. They talked for more than two hours, filmed by a German television crew. Avnery joked that the unmarried PLO leader could solve the Middle East conflict in an instant by marrying an Israeli woman.

He then returned to Israel to face the inevitable accusations of treason. Even his mother disowned him, cutting him out of her will and complaining: “He did not take care of me and instead went off to visit the murderer Yasser Arafat.”

  • He exposed atrocities by Israeli soldiers.
  • After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war Avnery urged Israel to withdraw from the territories it had gained and set up a Palestinian state.
  • In 1975 he co-founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
  • He acted as a “human shield” to prevent the Israel military shelling Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah during the second Intifada.
  • In 1965 Avnery created a political party in response to a defamation law that appeared to target HaOlam HaZeh. He won a seat in the Knesset that year and held it four years later, but the party disintegrated. He wrote a book about his tenure called 1 against 119: Uri Avnery in the Knesset.
  • Later Avnery developed secret relationships with some Palestinian officials and served on occasion as an unofficial back channel between them and the Israeli government.
  • He was one of a handful of Israelis to attend Arafat’s funeral in 2004.
  • He supported negotiations with the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas and a boycott of goods produced in Israel’s West Bank settlements.

His estate is bequeathed to peace activism.

Pope Francis welcomed the Palestinian leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, to a private audience in the Vatican on December 3rd.

In a statement released after their meeting, the Vatican said the two leaders focused on “efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”

They exchanged gifts and discussed the status of Jerusalem, underlining “the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy city for the three Abrahamic religions.

Writer Amos Oz was one of the first Israelis to advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict after the Six-Day War.

In 1978, he was one of the founders of Peace Now. He is opposed to Israeli settlement activity and was among the first to praise the Oslo Accords and talks with the PLO. His thoughtful book How to cure a fanatic is a collection of Amos Oz’s lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Read more here.

He advocates the two-state solution, which he sees as the best answer to what is effectively a “real-estate dispute”

“The Palestinians are in Palestine because Palestine is the homeland and the only homeland of the Palestinian people. In the same way in which Holland is the homeland of the Dutch, or Sweden the homeland of the Swedes.

“The Israeli Jews are in Israel because there is no other country in the world which the Jews, as a people, as a nation, could ever call home. As individuals, yes, but not as a people, not as a nation.”

He draws a parallel between the experience of the Palestinian people and the experience of the Jews, stressing that both claims to Palestine are justified and right. Accordingly he concludes “What we need is a painful compromise.”

 

]

 

 

 

oo

Advertisements

Remember Harry Patch: “war is organised murder and nothing else”

November 12, 2018

In the autumn of 2009 a service was held in Westminster Abbey for Harry Patch, the oldest surviving Tommy from the trenches of World War One, who had just died at the age of 111.

His experience led him to believe that war is organised murder and nothing else – “the calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings – not worth one death let alone all the millions”.

Perhaps remembering the practice of single combat centuries ago, between two warriors selected as the champions of their respective armies, he said: “If governments want to fight, give them a rifle each and let them fight it out together.” Would Tony Blair have risked his own skin and faced Saddam Hussein? Or would he gladly have followed Harry’s advice and used his ready tongue to “settle peace round a table” without losing millions of men?

It’s too late to ask Harry for his opinion of peaceful and prosperous countries such as Sweden and New Zealand, whose foreign policy prohibits them from attacking others, but not too late for readers to campaign for this country to develop a civilised foreign policy, to stop selling arms to aggressive states and to stop helping our ‘special friend’ and its allies in the aerial bombing of civilians in the Middle East

What would be the most fitting tribute to Harry Patch? A state funeral – or listening to his wise, heartfelt words and acting on them? As another wise man wrote on the Stirrer’s message board (link no longer working),

 

“War is not and never was the way to solve problems between people and nations”.

 

 

 

o

 


India and Pakistan: the ebb and flow of peace-making

October 21, 2018

.

The writer, who has lived in India, noted the feelings of friendship between the ordinary people of both countries and the common appreciation of cricket, music and films.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an August letter to his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan, said that India was committed to peaceful neighbourly ties with Pakistan.


In September, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan continued the proposals for peace talks between India and Pakistan in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which he asked for the two neighbouring countries to resume dialogue and iron out differences. The Times of India reported that he also suggested a meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi – on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York – to discuss bringing a positive change and peace.

This was agreed but called off the next day by the Indian government because three policemen were abducted from their homes in south Kashmir’s Shopian district and shot dead by the Hizbul Mujahideen, ‘Pakistan-based entities’.

On October 20th, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan extended condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in a train accident near Amritsar, India and was praised by social media users from both Pakistan and India. On his official twitter account, @ImranKhanPTI, Khan posted:

Tweep @jaideepwadali, who hails from Amritsar, responded to Khan’s tweet and wrote: “We are with the people affected, being from same city. Thanks for your words Imran sir.” @KKX056, a Pakistani tweep based in Italy, posted: “We all are with Indians.” Tweep @Politico_Jay, based in Gujarat, India, wrote: “It was a horrifying incident. Thanks for your sympathy and kindness Mr Prime Minister.” @SidraRajpoot786, a tweep based in Pakistan, added: “This shows that humanity comes first.”

Within four hours, his tweet had more than 600 comments, 3,200 retweets and 14,500 likes. Khan’s tweet also brought many social media users from both sides of the border closer over this tragedy.

 

 

 

o


Will North and South Korea build their own path to peace?

September 19, 2018

Today’s news that Kim Jong-un has agreed to shut down one of North Korea’s main missile testing and launch sites and the two Korean leaders “agreed on a way to achieve denuclearisation” is the third step towards reconciliation and peace taken by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Read [FULL TEXT] Panmunjeon Declaration

In April the Korea Times reported that the leaders had signed the “Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” in which they made it clear there would be no more war on the peninsula and that a new era of peace has begun (read on here)..

CNN reported New US sanctions against North Korea on September 13th. They were aimed at two Chinese information technology companies, which are North Korean-controlled, according to the US Treasury Department, which alleged that the Russia-based company Volasys Silver Star and China-based China Silver Star had been violating US sanctions.

Despite this and other tensions, on September 12th, the Straits Times reported that North and South Korea will open a joint liaison office at the site of the Kaesong industrial complex, where for about a decade, South Korean companies ran production lines staffed by North Korean workers at the industrial park. A South Korean delegation discussed this in June with North Korean officials at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Seoul said the office will become operational –  working to improve cross-border communications and exchanges – immediately after the opening ceremony on Friday, September 14th. Ri Son Gwon, the head of North Korea’s delegation said, “The two sides are now able to take a large step toward peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean peninsula by quickly and frankly discussing issues arising from inter-Korean relations”.

The office is a significant move in thawing relations between the two countries, and follows a meeting this month between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and a South Korean presidential envoy and Mr Trump’s warm reaction to a personal letter from Mr Kim offering a second summit with the US.

The two Koreas previously communicated by fax and special telephone lines, which were often severed when their relations took a turn for the worse. Seoul’s patient and persistent unification ministry said the office would become a “round-the-clock consultation and communication channel” for advancing inter-Korean relations, improving ties between the US and the North, and easing military tensions.

If North and South Korea succeed in building their path to peace they could encourage other fractured regions to do so.

Will the Indian sub-continent also begin to act in its people’s best interests?

 

 

 

o


Glimpses of Kofi Annan’s work for the United Nations and African agriculture

August 20, 2018

 

Amongst the tributes to Ghanaian-born Kofi Annan is one from Alec Russell, the comment and analysis editor of the Financial Times

Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general (1997 to 2006), was at the helm of the UN during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition, which came despite his diplomatic efforts to stave off conflict. His opposition to that war led to a rupture with Washington.

Hella Pick in the Guardian adds that though Annan was by nature a conciliator, a “diplomat’s diplomat”, he also had the courage of his convictions and stuck to his guns even when powerful UN members urged retreat.

“A notable example was his intervention in Baghdad in 1998 to defuse a crisis over UN arms inspections in Iraq, where he went ahead with negotiations, against strong pressure from Washington to stay away; and he spoke out against the US invasion of 2003. Similarly, he defied Britain and the US when he negotiated with Libya to end a security council stalemate over the Lockerbie bombing”.

Alec Russell adds that Kofi Annan was criticised by some when, as head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1994, he was accused of ignoring warnings from his own mission about the impending genocide in Rwanda in which up to 1m people were killed in a matter of months.

He was also in charge of the UN during the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, a humanitarian programme to relieve the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis that ended in widespread abuse and corruption.

In retirement, he served as a UN special envoy for Syria and sought to intervene in Myanmar where the government has been accused of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. 

Less well known were his efforts to improve the efficiency of agriculture in Africa

The Kofi Annan Foundation was set up in 2007 to work for a fairer and more peaceful world. One of its projects furthered his dream, which was, Russell added, to transform the lot of Africa’s smallholders so that the world’s poorest continent could feed itself:

“No farmer went unquizzed as we toured smallholdings on the rust-red earth at a blistering pace”.

Seeing agriculture as crucial to lifting tens of millions out of poverty and contributing to wider development goals, he told the FT in 2011. While much of the continent is amazingly fertile, agriculture has long been hobbled by poor infrastructure and transport, meaning that many countries cannot feed their populations, let alone export. The only way Africa could reduce hunger, he concluded, was by increasing food production:

“Africa imports $75bn worth of food each year. For a continent with all the land we have, it’s just intolerable.” Annan urged the US and Europe to remove farm subsidies to help African farmers compete on a level playing field. More detail in a report from a 2017 Malawian newspaper here.

Annan also spearheaded the fight against the HIV/Aids epidemic, which was particularly severe in his own continent and he championed the Millennium Development Goals designed to prod governments into reaching minimum standards of health, education and gender equality.

In 2000, a report from an independent commission chaired by Ingvar Carlsson found the UN culpable of weak management and oversight during his time in charge – a time when it was overstretched due to America’s failure to pay its dues. But as the late John Ferguson said in his highly recommended book, Not Them But Us: In Praise of The United Nations:

ferguson 2 not them but us cover (2)“People tend to talk about the UN as `them’. But the UN is not `them’; it is `us’. The UN has no existence apart from the nations which compose it. The Secretary-General and his staff are there to fulfil the decisions of the nations, no less and no more.

“U Thant, the first Asian to hold that office, wrote in his memoirs: `There is a widespread illusion that the Secretary-General is comparable to the head of a government. He is often criticized for failure to take an action – when over 130 sovereign member states collectively fail to act.

“The plain fact is that the United Nations and the Secretary-General have none of the attributes of sovereignty and no independent power.’ So if you hear anyone saying `The UN has failed,’ say to them, `I’m glad you admit your failure. Now what are you going to do about it?” We are the UN; its failures are our failures and its successes are our successes . . . “

 

 

 

o

 


Consensus: conflicts in South Asia will only be resolved by political means

August 13, 2018

.

In his election manifesto Pakistan’s prime minister in waiting, Imran Khan, said that his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), will move ahead ‘substantively’ on the bilateral strategic dialogue with India.

He recognises that for lasting peace within the region, especially with its neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable. PTI will work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UN Security Council resolutions.

All aspects of the strategic nuclear deterrence will be addressed so as to prevent a spiralling nuclear arms race in the region.

PTI will push for the principle of non-discrimination in all arms control and disarmament measures, including global nuclear disarmament.

Early in July U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, promised support for President Ashraf Ghani’s bid to start peace talks with the Taliban

He said that the United States would be willing to join the talks. However a week later Reuters reported that the Taliban have rejected talks which would include the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.

The US has refused to talk to the Taliban ever since the Afghan government failed to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The un-named author of FT View, two weeks later, said that it is time to bring the Taliban ‘inside the tent’

S/he comments that, initially, the US stance stemmed from hubris — an enduring and fateful characteristic of nearly two centuries of Afghan expeditions. They expected to defeat the Taliban swiftly and completely and though the US military has abandoned the hope of a swift end to the war, it clings on to its belief that victory is possible, if only more resources were made available.

The first attempt after 9/11 to gather competing Afghan groups to sit down and talk in Bonn in 2001 led to a reasonable outline for a new Afghan state. The Taliban, however, were not invited to the meeting in Bonn, nor to the jirgas or plebiscites, held afterwards in Afghanistan to legitimise the agreements made there. FT View writes that the Taliban have been exacting revenge for their exclusion ever since.

Today, FT View states, the Taliban control or contest more than 40% of the country and civilian fatalities in 2018 have hit a record high, adding, “However hard it will be, it is time to bring them inside the tent”.

It adds that most Afghans have welcomed the NATO forces because of their state’s weakness and the security force’s frailties. Yet they have always understood that the insurgency, here as elsewhere, would only be resolved by political not military means.

The FT reflects that Gen Nicholson, who has spent much of the past 10 years building relationships with Afghans of all factions, is widely respected in that country. Is it too much to hope that he could work with a team including Imran Khan?

Afghanistan’s Ambassador Shaida Mohammad Abdali yesterday welcomed Mr Khan’s victory statement: “We hope that the positive speeches that Imran Khan gave on his victory day will be realised by practical steps that we will also see in the future”. 

 

 

 

o


Peace accord brings hope to the Horn of Africa

July 21, 2018

.

Poor economic prospects, repression and military conscription made Eritrea one of Africa’s biggest sources of refugees bound for Europe.

David Pilling, noted author and FT columnist reports a ‘diplomatic turnround’ which has taken place with far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond, commenting, “Yet no one outside the continent has paid much attention”. Abiy Ahmed, the recently elected young Ethiopian prime minister has transformed the atmosphere in a country that had been beset by years of civil strife.

The two men later met and signed a peace agreement that brings to an end a 20-year stand-off since the bloody conflict of 1998-2000. Pilling adds that the accord was made possible largely due to the forward thinking of Mr Abiy, at 41 Africa’s youngest leader, who offered to cede land in accordance with a peace deal that was never implemented.

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed the accord and later marked the diplomatic thaw between their once-warring nations with hugs and warm words in front of an ecstatic crowd at a concert celebrating the end of one of Africa’s longest conflicts.

Jane Flanagan (the Times) describes a visibly moved Isaias Afwerki addressing thousands of jubilant well-wishers in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on his first visit to the country in 22 years. As he was welcomed by flag-waving Ethiopians chanting his name, he said: “Hate, discrimination and conspiracy is now over. No one can steal the love we have regained now. Now is the time to make up for the lost times.”

Mr Isaias’s visit followed one made to his capital by Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, when the leaders signed a historic five-point declaration to end a border war that has claimed 100,000 lives. They used their second summit to commit to restoring trade and transport links and reopening embassies.

“The reconciliation we are forging now is an example to people across Africa and beyond,” Mr Abiy said.

In a speech at the weekend to welcome Mr Isaias, Mr Abiy said: “We have finally found our sister nation after many years of hiding.” The summit culminated in a celebration of music and dance last night at the Millennium Hall, attended by 25,000 ticket holders.

David Pilling noted some of the real and immediate practical implications of the deal:

  • Daily flights between the two capitals, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, will start next week.
  • The unblocking of telephone lines between the neighbouring states led to emotional reunions between families and friends who had been separated for decades, events compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Eritrea’s economic outlook should improve.
  • Landlocked Ethiopia will get access to two Eritrean ports, giving it an alternative to shipping goods in and out of Djibouti.

Alongside developments in African countries including Zimbabwe and Angola, it will be another sign of potential political rejuvenation on the continent and if the peace deal holds, the international community should stand ready to engage.

Pilling adds that observers say if the peace deal holds it could help to stabilise neighbouring Somalia. The benefits could reach far north, because an end to conflict and repression in Eritrea could reduce the number of its citizens migrating to Europe.

 

 

o