Having been away from this blog for a while, apart from moderating some fine comments on the perplexing Gaza prisoner situation of Gilad Shalit and his Hamas captors, I'm sure it is time to ramp up efforts again in light of increasing concerns.
I was impressed by the very recent video interview of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, by the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. It is wide ranging, both interviewer and interviewee handling the complexities well, but unraveling little.
According to Bowen:
"President Bashar al-Assad has the air of a man who thinks matters are going his way--even though he shares the common Middle Eastern view that the region is getting more dangerous.
Israel, the US and Britain are convinced that not only is Mr. Assad arming Hezbollah, but that he is also sending bigger, better and more accurate weapons than before.
And he seems in no mood to respond to US attempts to woo him away from Syria's long-term strategic alliance with Iran."
In a separate case from the one for which he is on trial, former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has been named in a corruption scandal dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem. He has not yet been questioned. The allegation is that he took bribes to hurry along a high-rise residential development in West Jerusalem. He has denied wrongdoing: "I was never offered bribes and I never took bribes from anybody in any matter, in any form, either directly or indirectly."
Olmert's successor as mayor, Uri Lupolianski, was arrested Wednesday. According to the BBC, "A judiciary spokesman said Mr Lupolianski was suspected of receiving bribes, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, tax avoidance and conspiracy, in connection with the Holyland property development." Bribes totaling more than $800,000 have been mentioned. Lupolianski was deputy mayor under Olmert from 1993-2003 and mayor till 2008. He has claimed that "A deputy mayor has no responsibility. ....The mayor is the one who decides... ."
The Israeli security cabinet voted against further opening of Gaza border crossings today, tying the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to further progress. Hamas has said that Israel would have to agree to release as many as 1400 Palestinian prisoners in return. They include Fateh and Hamas members. Hamas has refused to link Shalit's release to any future truce, however.
Hamas and Israel move toward Gaza truce
|Helena Cobban has written a lot over the years on the ME. In this link she has a very detailed run down on the latest Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over prisoner releases that could free key Hamas and Fateh militants from Israeli hands, and one Israeli soldier held in Gaza since 2006. All of this could be the precursor to declaration of another truce between Hamas and Israel on Wednesday. Reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh also seems to be on the cards. Meetings in Cairo indicate progress toward shared responsibilities and new elections.|
Who really cares about Gaza's war ravaged people?
Scholars focus on new model for negotiations
|Writing in the New York Times, Ethan Bronner reviews a new collection of scholarly essays on how to resolve the various critical problems in the Middle East. The authors, from two US policy research groups, deal in “nuance and realism, despite small lapses.” They also happen to have close relations to the incoming Obama administration. They assert that the road to peace may lie not so much through Jerusalem, as through Tehran.|
Israeli author proposes next steps in current conflict in Palestine's Gaza Strip
David Grossman has a fine piece in the NYT about the current Israeli campaign to crush Hamas. He argues for a 48 hour unilateral ceasefire on Israel's part.
Grossman, whose eldest son was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War, maintains that such an approach taken early in that conflict, would have put Israel in a much better position now. During the proposed 48 hour ceasefire, he suggests that international mediators should be invited to resolve the immediate crisis. His analysis takes note that Israel has the duty to defend not only Israeli citizens subject to Hamas rockets, but also innocent Gazan Palestinians.
Grossman writes, "We must not forget, even for a moment, that the inhabitants of Gaza will continue to live on our borders and that sooner or later we will need to achieve neighborly relations with them."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Grossman some years ago at his home in Jerusalem. He struck me then and even more so today as a man of wisdom, compassion and carefully constructed understanding of the Middle East conflict.
His voice should be heard in the current crisis.
Robert Kaplan revises the definition of the Middle East—from the Mediterranean to Burma
Defining the Middle East has long been an awkward task. Robert Kaplan, writing in the NYT, believes it should include a much greater area and that the Mumbai terrorist attacks lend credence to his position. Certainly, there is confusion over what comprises the region. Standard textbooks in Political Science and International Relations can't seem to agree. Here's a selection:
In The Foreign Policies of Middle East States (2002), Hinnebusch and Ehteshami have a map labeled "The Middle East (the Arab League plus Iran, Israel and Turkey)." There are 22 countries in the Arab League. They stretch from Mauritania in the far west of Africa to Oman, east of Saudi Arabia. The League includes Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, the Comores in the Indian Ocean and three observer states Eritrea, India, and Venezuela. To be fair, the Arab League's observers were added in 2003, 2006 and 2007.
The map in Politics in the Middle East (2000) by Bill and Springborg shows an area that stretches from Morocco (including Western Sahara) to Pakistan. It excludes Somalia and Djibouti and includes Turkey, Israel, Iran and Afghanistan.
The cover on State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (2004) by Roger Owen, shows Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, part of Afghanistan and part of Pakistan. Inside, there's a 20th century inter-war map of the Middle East, showing an area from Morocco to Iran and from Turkey to Sudan.
Monte Palmer’s The Politics of the Middle East (2006) has a map bounded on the west by Egypt and Sudan, on the east by Iran, on the north by Turkey on the south by Yemen. In his written definition of the Middle East, Palmer says,
And according to Politics and Change in the Middle East (2008) by Anderson, Seibert and Wagner,
Finally, let's consider Fred Halliday’s view in The Middle East in International Relations (2005):
Quite a range of definitions. On this basis, Kaplan's new/old Greater Near East may have traction.
USC class Blogs to understand the Middle East, its conflicts and possibilities
The class I've been teaching this semester at the University of Southern California is almost over. The 33 students have posted well over 600 entries on the associated blog middleeastpolitics.net presenting information focused on 12 countries in this very diverse region.
They have learned a lot in a short time and the blogging requirement has been part of their almost daily routine. They even heard from two guest lecturers on the finer points of of social media use, search engine optimization and effective blog posting.