Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba says his country will not stop importing oil from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Gemba made the remarks on Monday during a visit to Washington after talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, noting that stopping crude imports from Iran could endanger the entire global economy.
“Specifically in relation to the (US) national defense authorization act, which targets the central bank of Iran, I conveyed my view that there is a danger of causing damage to the entire global economy if the imports of Iranian crude oil stop,” he said.
According to a report published in a Japanese newspaper on Sunday, Japan, which gets 10 percent of its oil imports from Iran, would be hardest hit in case sanctions were slapped against the Iranian oil industry over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Earlier in the last week, both houses of the US Congress passed a bill that included provisions that would impose sanctions on the foreign financial institutions that did business with the Central Bank of Iran.
The United States, Britain, and Canada imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors on November 21 in the wake of the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the country’s nuclear activities.
The report accused Iran of seeking military objectives in its nuclear program.
Iran has dismissed the report as “unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and under political pressure by mostly the United States.”
The US, the Israeli regime, and some of their allies have repeatedly and rhetorically accused Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program.
Iran argues that, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has never reported any specific evidence indicating that Tehran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.
Public sector workers in Italy are once again holding a strike to protest against the imposition of the government’s harsh austerity measures aimed at saving the country from financial ruin.
Italian postal and health workers were joined by teachers on Monday in a one day strike to protest a package of cost-cutting measures the government aims to pass by the end of the year.
Protesters in Rome are expected to march on parliament to oppose Prime Minister Mario Monti’s 30-billion euros budget bill.
Italy’s main union leaders say the measures are too tough for pensioners and workers and not tough enough on the wealthy.
The main objections are the introduction of property taxes on primary residences as well as pension cuts and the hefty raise of the retirement age.
Monti believes Italy will “collapse” like Greece without the new austerity measures, saying the package will also help solve the eurozone debt crisis.
Italy’s debt, totaling around 1.9 trillion euros, is 120 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Rome has been under intense pressure to act quickly ahead of a key European Union summit on Thursday and Friday.
The government has said it will meet its target of balancing the budget by 2013 but has warned the Italian economy will slip back into recession next year.
Public anger over how members of parliament (MPs) were abusing their expenses system has helped usher in a little transparency to British politics over the past few years. Yet the Labor Friends of Israel (LFI), a powerful group within the country’s main opposition party, is still behaving like a secret society.
Unlike a similar “friends of Israel” group belonging to the Liberal Democrats – the junior party in the ruling coalition – the LFI does not appear to have supplied any information about the sources of its finances to the UK’s Electoral Commission. This lack of disclosure could be illegal. Legislation applying to “members’ associations” of political parties stipulates that all donations above £7,500 ($11,600) must be notified to the Commission within 30 days.
Today, I asked Ben Garrett, the LFI’s head of policy and research, why his organization seems to be breaking the law. “I am not willing to comment,” he replied.
Garrett repeated that answer when I asked for basic details of the LFI’s annual budget and who its largest contributors are. When I argued that it is undemocratic for the LFI to be seeking to influence British policies on the Middle East, without providing basic details about how it is financed, he said, “I am not willing to engage with The Electronic Intifada in a discussion on these issues.”
Admittedly, the information provided by the “friends of Israel” groups for the two other large parties is quite scanty. The Conservative Friends of Israel refused to tell me a few months ago if that group is being funded by the arms industry. The answer to this question cannot be found in the information it has given to the Commission, which mainly relates to visits to the Middle East by Conservative MPs. For its part, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group appears to be more open, naming David Alliance, a textiles entrepreneur known to grace The Sunday Times list of Britain’s richest people, as one of its key donors.
Admiring Israel’s weapons
The LFI’s secrecy is all the more disturbing, given how some of its senior figures have recently been preparing a review of Britain’s defense policy and there is strong reason to suspect that their admiration for Israel is coloring their views.
A 96-page paper called “Ideas for Future UK Defense Equipment” was published by the Labor Party in September. Its preface was jointly signed by Michael Dugher, the LFI’s vice-chairman, and Jim Murphy, the shadow defense secretary.
As part of their deliberations, both men visited Israel in June. The bill for that trip was shared by the Britain Israel Research Center (BICOM) and the UK embassy in Tel Aviv. During it, the men held consultations with two of Israel’s leading arms makers, Elbit and Rafael. Their paper lauds the pilotless drones that Elbit has provided to the British Army for the war in Afghanistan, without acknowledging that they have been tested by spying on and murdering civilians in Gaza.
A few months ago, Dugher and Murphy both tried to make political capital out of a controversy in which Liam Fox, then the UK’s defense secretary, was embroiled. Fox had to resign because his close friend Adam Werritty was posing as his adviser, despite how Werritty had never been given any such job by the British government. While Dugher and Murphy were happy to censure Fox and Werritty for their shenanigans, they did not draw attention to how some of Werritty’s trips abroad were financed by BICOM.
Strong bonds to Zionist PR firm
Their reticence on that point is easy to understand. For BICOM is known to have solid bonds with the LFI, even though the center’s chief donor, Las Vegas casino magnate Poju Zabludowicz has helped fund the Conservatives. BICOM is registered as a private company, yet performs many of the functions that an embassy normally would by, for example, arranging for journalists to interview Israeli politicians.
At least three of BICOM’s team either remain involved with the LFI or have been in the recent past. Lorna Fitzsimons, the chief executive, was active in the LFI when she was a Labor member of parliament. Dermot Kehoe, BICOM’s press officer, was the partner of David Cairns, the LFI chairman who died in May. And Luke Akehurst, BICOM’s director of campaigns, is a Labor councillor in London who uses his blog to solicit recruits for the LFI.
Akehurst is also the quasi-official stenographer for the LFI. Last month, he wrote a glowing account of a speech given to the LFI by Ed Miliband, leader of the entire Labor Party.
Proving that he is little different to his predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, Miliband is more eager to placate the LFI’s hawks than follow the good example shown by his mother Marion Kozak , who has declared her support for the principled organization Jews for Justice for Palestinians. If Akehurst’s transcript is accurate, Miliband used his LFI address to malign the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel by implying that it had an anti-Semitic motive.
Sara Apps from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London noted that the only information that the LFI seems to have provided to the Electoral Commission concerned trips that the LFI has financed, without revealing where the money for those trips originated. “According to the Electoral Commission website, LFI has spent at least £76,822 on overseas visits for Labor MPs since 2003,” she told me. “Add this to their office and employment costs, it is difficult to conceive they could survive without significant donations from funders.”
By refusing to reveal where they get their money, the Labor Friends of Israel prove that they are enemies of democracy.
AustralianFOPA | October 3, 2011
The Boycott of Israeli goods is part of an international movement known as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. The movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organisations and has gained momentum internationally as the brutality of Israel has time and again been exposed to the world.
The main goals of the movement are to:
- Expose the true nature of Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices
-Give real value to human rights by making Israel accountable for its crimes
– Reveal and highlight the complicity of the international community in supporting Israeli crimes that relentlessly violate human rights and international law
– End international law support for Israeli occupation and apartheid with the understanding that apartheid cannot be sustained without external assistance.
Join the Campaign:
The music for this video is ‘We Resist (Free Palestine)’ by DocJazz
The struggles of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheik Jarrah and Silwan have garnered a lot of media attention in recent years, but the plight of the 16,000 Palestinian inhabitants of Issawiya has gone, for the most part, ignored. Although they pay taxes to the Israeli government, they receive next to nothing in return. Residents find themselves separated from other Palestinian communities and hemmed in by settlements and a military base.
Israeli forces demolishing a home in Issawiya (photo: flickr/iicahd)
In Issawiya, narrow streets of broken concrete serve as playgrounds and barbed wired fences separate the community from their lands. Issawiya looks like the typical impoverished village in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But it’s not– its residents pay taxes like Israeli citizens and live only a 15-minute drive from downtown Jerusalem.
Like the rest of East Jerusalem, Issawiya was occupied by the Israelis in the wake of 1967 war. But even before that, residents experienced life under occupation. During the almost 20 years of Jordanian control, Mount Scopus was considered by both Jordan and Israel as a demilitarized zone, a neutral space under the United Nations control. During this time, the Israeli government managed to convince the UN, on more than one occasion, to [block] the village entrance for hours on end. Nobody was allowed to exit or enter during those periods.
Today, that entrance is an alley which borders the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, separating the imposing building from the humble Palestinian houses. Over the years, the state of Israel has built new entrances to Issawiya, but it has also dictated its borders, setting boundaries which exclude more than 50 percent of the villagers’ lands.
The state has effectively boxed Issawiya in with the Hadassah hospital, Hebrew University, the settlement known as French Hill, and the separation wall which rises behind the village and separates the Palestinians from Issawiya from the Palestinians from Anata and from the Shoafat refugee camp. And, finally, at the other end of Mount Scopus, the military base built by the Israelis five years ago.
The residents of Issawiya are not harassed by settlers and do not suffer the systematic confiscation of houses by the Israeli government as is the case in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. But they, too, struggle to go about their lives. For example, a permit for a three-storey house can cost up to 150 thousand dollars. For those unable to raise the whole amount, the only option is to build something illegally and then face eternal suits, fines, and, sometimes, demolition.
The difficulty in building is also reflected in the meager number of educational institutions and absolute lack of medical facilities. According to Fatah’s local leader, Mohammed Abu Humus, about 70 per cent of the local children must look for an opening in the primary schools at neighboring villages.
Issawiya has no secondary school and so all children must be enrolled elsewhere. The average daily cost, including public transportation and food is around 15 shekels per child. Monthly, the cost per child rises to 330 shekels.
These costs should be added to the basic expenses each family has in taxes. As Jerusalem residents, the inhabitants of Issawiya pay their taxes like Israeli citizens, although garbage collection is inadequate and despite the fact that the village’s sewage system doesn’t work properly. Additional sewage from Hadassah hospital and Hebrew University flows through the village’s cracked alleys, adding to the stench of garbage piles.
The Israeli government has recently ordered the confiscation of 732 dunams on the slope of Mount Scopus, which stands on one side of the village. While Israeli officials say that it will be a national park, the Palestinian inhabitants who have already lost more than 50 per cent of their lands since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, suspect that the state has different plans for the area.
“We will probably have a settlement there in the near future,” Abu Humus says.
Over the weekend it was announced that Stanford had bowed out of a NY city-sponsored competition to build a huge engineering campus on Roosevelt Island, and Cornell, which is still in the running, just upped the ante.
Cornell University said that it has received an anonymous $350 million donation to back up its bid for a proposed engineering campus in New York City.
The city of NY will also kick in $100 million. Good times. Well Cornell wants to build the campus in league with the Technion, Israel’s version of MIT. As I say often, Follow the money.
From the Cornell University Chronicle, on the intimate connections between the schools. Again I wonder about the fundraising aspects of this alliance:
It should not be a surprise that Cornell and The Technion — Israel Institute of Technology have formed a partnership to propose building a new campus in New York City focused on technology, innovation and commercialization. A web of collaborative research and a shared mission have been connecting them for at least two decades.
“They are two institutions that are land-grant to the world,” said Carol Epstein ’61, a member of the Cornell University Council who also sits on the International Board of Governors of the Technion and the National Board of Directors of the American Technion Society…
Cornell faculty are just as likely to teach in Israel. Zygmunt Haas, professor of electrical and computer engineering, has just settled in for two semesters in the electrical engineering department at the Technion, at the invitation of the department chair, teaching a course in his specialty, wireless networks. An administrator at Technion can quickly reel off the names of 15 Technion faculty members, past and present, who have studied or taught at Cornell.
Cornell President David Skorton also has had Technion connections. He and Technion President Peretz Lavie developed a good relationship when Skorton led an American Jewish Committee Project Interchange tour of Israel with other university presidents in the summer of 2010.
As my friend Dennis Loh asks:
Why is US (NYC) courting Israel, a pariah-state, to develop a high-tech state-of-the-art grad school in NYC? The main issue I have is what it implies for the future. Are American students, post-doctoral fellows, and professors going to be working with/for an institution that is fully-partnered with Israel? Given Technion’s position in Israel (discrimination against Israeli Palestinians), it raises some very serious questions regarding NYC’s role in “legitimizing” Technion. Will US-based brains, resources, and hard work to be “automatically” shared with an Israeli institution? For example, an Asian foreign student working hard at such an institution will indirectly be “helping” Israel. There are so many aspects to this proposed collaboration and the questions should be raised NOW (in public) before the final selection is done in January.
UPDATE: Mayor Bloomberg is reported in today’s Times to be going with the Cornell offer. Note that in the piece there is NO mention of the Israeli connection. Huh.
On December 18, 2011 residents of Shu’fat and activists protested against the separation wall in front of the new checkpoint. A certain loss of demonstrators was noted, since thirty-five organizers were arrested yesterday by Israeli policemen in their homes in the Shu’fat refugee camp in the middle of the night.
The residents of Shu’fat are Israeli citizens. However, they cannot enjoy the privileges which citizenship normally includes. While the streets in the illegal settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev on the other side of the wall are clean and the municipal services are working, the Shu’fat streets are dirty and waste collection does not exist. Houses taller than two stories are illegal in East Jerusalem, so most houses here have demolition orders.
“All people in Shu’fat must pay taxes to Israel, and still the streets look like a third world country,” one of the demonstrators says.
“They are taking from the poor and give it to the wealthy,” another demonstrator says.
Shu’fat is a neighborhood in the north-east of Jerusalem, though separated from the rest of the city by the eight meters high concrete separation wall. The Palestinian population of 50,000 live more or less imprisoned in the neighborhood, forced to pass through a military checkpoint to reach the rest of Jerusalem. The checkpoint, comprising an observation tower, five stations for armed soldiers to search the cars, and the most recent surveillance technology, was inaugurated last week.
Starting on December 23, there will be weekly demonstrations in Shu’fat after the Friday prayer.
“We will come here to protest every week until this wall has fallen,” promises Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
Mustafa Tamimi was killed during the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh, which demonstrates against the occupation, illegal Jewish settlements, and Israel’s appropriation of the village spring. While Nabi Saleh might be one of the most visible struggles around water, there are numerous other places in the West Bank where Israel has taken water resources and diverted them for settlements. A Palestinian man discusses his childhood connection with one such spring…
The pump that controls the water that once filled Al Auja spring (photo: Emma Mancini)
Abdallah stares at the empty channel, his face resigned. On this beautiful sunny day, he hadn’t expected to find the creek of his childhood completely dried up. Beside the waterless channel, there is a huge Israeli pump, protected by electric fences.
“Al Auja was a water spring, where the creek started”, Abdallah Awudallah, a 29-year-old from the Bethlehem district’s Ubbedyia village, tells the Alternative Information Center. He came here with a group of internationals to discuss Israeli confiscation of land and water in the Jordan Valley. The tour would have finished in Al Auja water spring. But the water was gone.
Not a drop: the Israeli authorities have built a generator in order to draw up water from the once-flowing creek and to send it to the agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley. The spring, which used to serve Jericho, is now reserved exclusively for Israeli settlements.
“In Arabic ‘auja’ means ‘in the opposite direction’” Awudallah explains. “We used to call the creek like that because for long stretches the water ran up and not down. Because of the high pressure and speed, the water received the boost it needed to flow [upstream].”
Not only was the spring unique, it colored the desert green. It also served as an educational tool for Palestinian children, Awudallah adds.
“Many schools in the West Bank used to bring the students for a trip to Jericho and Al Auja: it was the perfect place to spend a day between water and fish and to study one of the basic vital resources. No Palestinian schools can organize a journey in Tiberias, in Palestine ’48, because they lack the necessary permits to enter Israel. So, Al Auja was the only place to feel the importance of water.”
“The first time I came here,” he goes on, “I was 15 years old. It was in 1997. The first time I saw a creek and fish playing around our feet, immersed in the water. Alongside the creek, the grass was green. Many Palestinian families used to come to Al Auja for a picnic. But always warily, in fear: the spring is located in Area C, under Israeli control, and many Israeli organizations organized tours here. The Israeli army often pushed the Palestinians out: I remember arrests, searches.”
“And today, I find it empty,” Awudallah says, his eyes fixed on the channel. “This place is a desert, there´s no life whatsoever. I feel empty, as sad as this channel. I wonder how the Bedouin community of Ras Al Auja is living now: they settled here because of the water. They had fresh grass for sheep and goats and drinking water. Now, for sure, they are forced to buy tanks from Israeli companies: every tank costs 200 shekel.”
Activists from Jordan Valley Solidarity (JVS)–a network of local popular committees and international supporters–explain that Al Auja was an oasis once. Families used to come to the spring to fish, swim, and picnic amidst the banana groves. In 1972, the Israeli private company Mekarot–51% of which is owned by the State of Israel–started digging two deep water wells in Al Auja, decreasing the capacity of the aquifer.
Some years ago, the Israeli authorities completed the project by constructing a pump that draws water directly from the spring, drying up the creek completely. Water was appropriated from the Palestinians of the Jordan Valley in other ways–while Israelis are allowed to dig wells up to a depth of 300 meters, Palestinians can’t exceed 160 meters. Thus, the water resources, become, in practice, inaccessible.
In the Jordan Valley, the Palestinian communities are forced to buy tanks from Mekarot company, that monopolizes the water resources in the West Bank. According to JVS, Palestinians pay 200 shekels (over 50 US dollars) per water tank plus transportation costs.
“Each cubic meter of water costs the Palestinian communities 30 shekels,” Fathy Khidrat, member of the Jordan Valley Solidarity, says to the AIC, “while [Israeli] settlers pay three shekels per cubic meter.”
While Palestinians constitute a majority in the West Bank, settlers consume four times as much water, on average per capita.
The nearby village of Ras Al Auja, with a population just over 4000, faces additional problems. After the 1967 war, the Israeli authorities created a security zone alongside the Jordan Valley, an operation that resulted in the confiscation of more than 30,000 dunam belonging to Ras Al Auja.
According to JVS, the construction of road 90 has made things worse. Reserved for settlers, 90 cuts through the West Bank from north to south. The road bypasses Jericho and cuts through Ras Al Auja village, while its residents aren’t allowed to use it.
Last spring, the Vittorio Arrigoni school (re-named in honor of the Italian activist killed in Gaza last 15th of April) was destroyed by Israeli military bulldozers. The school was built by JVS and served more than 130 children from the community.
In addition, there are several settlements surrounding the village and a military checkpoint controls the southern area of Ras Al Auja. The unemployment rate is high, according to JVS, “Al Auja survives because the men work illegally inside the settlements. The area feels like little more than a work camp, reminiscent of the township of apartheid in South Africa, with all the men away during the day, at work in the settlements.”
Christmas cheer came a bit early for Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories’ (COGAT) announcement of goodwill gestures for Christians during the holiday season. It would appear that Santa has decided that 500 Palestinian Christians from Gaza who are under the age of 16 and over the age of 46 have been nice this year and so deserve a chance to visit family in Israel and the West Bank and participate in religious festivities at holy sites outside the Strip.
It’s a welcome gesture and certainly important that the principles of freedom of movement and freedom of religious worship, as well as goodwill, find expression in COGAT’s actions.
But a closer look at the goodwill gesture suggests that the Grinch – and not just Santa Claus – has been at work. In this year’s stocking for Gaza’s Christians is a rollback of their ability to access holy sites on the holidays, relative to past years: Israel has raised the age of those banned from traveling to 46 years old, rather than 35 years old, and has set a quota of just 500 people being allowed to travel, even though about 600 Christians traveled last year.
Whether they have been naughty or nice, at least two-thirds of Gaza’s approximately 1,500 Christians, including all those between the ages of 16-46 who are excluded from the gesture, won’t be able to celebrate the holiday with their family members who meet the criteria and do squeeze into the quota. That means a family of six, with mom and dad over the ages of 46 but with children aged 20, 16, 14, and 7 will either have to forfeit the chance to travel or the option of spending Christmas together.
Last year at Christmas, and even this past Easter, the criteria stipulated that those over 35 years of age could receive permits. It’s not clear why this Christmas only those over 46 can travel. Israel’s policy is even more restrictive for Muslims in Gaza: Muslims of any age can’t travel to holy sites, a policy approved in the courts earlier this year, so I guess we have to be grateful for small miracles. In any case, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
A new investigative report has found that Israel pays for trips by the UK lawmakers to the occupied Palestinian territories in a desperate attempt to buy their support.
The report released by political activist David Cronin shows that lawmakers including Chloe Smith, Aidan Burley, James Morris and Neil Parish, who are also the members of the so-called Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) in the British political establishment, have visited occupied Palestine during summer this year, from 29 May to 3 June, a trip whose costs were partly paid by the Israeli foreign ministry.
The members of the lower house of the parliament (MPs) cited themselves in separate declarations based on Freedom of Information requests that the cost of their visit has amounted to £1,548 each.
They said that the Israeli foreign ministry has paid £574 of the amount and the remaining £974 was paid by the pro-Israeli lobby group (CFI).
The striking fact was that the visit coincided with the UK government changing its law on universal jurisdiction in favor of Israeli authorities, said Cronin.
The law enables a country to prosecute other countries’ officials or other entities’ authorities on charges of grave human rights violations irrespective of where they may have happened.
In 2009, Tzipi Livni, the then foreign minister of the Zionist regime, had to cancel a pre-planned trip to London, because some peace activists had sought an arrest warrant for her on charges of committing war crimes during the Zionist army’s murderous invasion of the Gaza Strip.
The Conservative Friends of Israel, which organized the MPs’ trip, has been working diligently to have the universal jurisdiction law watered down in favor of the Israeli authority.
According to the CFI’s website, the organised trips featured tours of production facilities run by the weapons manufacturing company Elbit.
Elbit designs and manufactures the Hermes drones that the Zionist army used to attack Palestinian civilians during its invasion of Gaza. The company also supplies the British army with the same drone aircrafts deployed in the war in Afghanistan.
Amnesty International has reported that engines used in Elbit’s drones have been fitted by a plant belonging to the company near England’s second largest city, Birmingham.
More than 80 percent of the Conservative members of the British parliament are actually member to the extremist pro-Israeli lobby group, the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Frantic Arab and Western efforts on the Syrian front will do nothing to change the entrenched positions on either side – of those who blame the regime for all that is happening, or those who accuse its opponents of driving the country to ruin.
The crisis is sure to be protracted. It is delusional to speak of calm being restored to Syria in the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, as the country continues to haemorrhage and the status quo persists in the absence of any substantive political changes, Syrians are being faced with a fresh set of questions, in addition to those posed during the long months since the crisis began. The latter concerned freedom, democracy, change, toppling the regime, the foreign war of intervention, and related matters. These are now increasingly to be joined by daily concerns related to communal coexistence, and the severity of the political schism, sectarian divisions, the economic crisis, and living conditions.
The outside world, near and far, will in turn increasingly find itself having to live with the new realities in Syria – irrespective of all the assessments made by Western embassies and intelligence agencies, so widely quoted in media and political circles, that the regime’s end is nigh (while taking care to avoid giving any time-frames).
It is only to be expected for Syria’s foreign detractors to do what they can to advance their plans to topple the regime and install in power a political group beholden to them.
But the debate within the Syrian opposition itself has now turned into one about how to best support those Western plans – rather than how to formulate an independent program that would attract international support. We are referring here to the offshore opposition, as the internal opposition seems incapable of pronouncing a unified position that would carry the support of the street. The offshore opposition quickly exhausted whatever policies, slogans and ideas it set out with, and has begun to operate in accordance with the foreign agenda.
Thus, when the Arab states opted to convene an emergency Arab League meeting to up the pressure on the regime, the offshore oppositionists performed on cue: raising the rhetoric about the exceptional circumstances warranting intervention in Syria, and producing huge casualty figures attributed solely to the regime. (The daily funerals of members of the army and security forces are somehow ignored; or else they are counted as demonstrators killed by the regime’s forces).
But are decision-makers in Syria changing their way of thinking? By way of a caveat, nobody can tell for sure how their handling of developments will progress. Yet ideas are being discussed which could be said to reflect a change in the Syrian leadership’s approach to the crisis. It is being stressed that this should not be seen as the taking of dramatic steps in response to pressure. On the contrary, considerable calm is being maintained, yet with heightened apprehension about the forthcoming period, and with a number of considerations in mind. These include:
– The Syrian leadership knows that the domestic crisis is real. President Bashar Assad met a great many Syrians at the series of gatherings he held, and a large proportion of them harbored fundamental grievances. He reached the firm conclusion that what the Syrian people want – and want badly – is political pluralism. Pluralism that would enable the exercise of more freedoms and the rotation of power, rid state institutions of one-party control, regulate the security establishment and halt its massive intrusion into people’s lives, and thereby overcome the pervasive wave of corruption.
– The Syrian leadership knows that this obliges it to cancel Article VIII of the Constitution, and seek to bring others from outside the Baath Party into government. Those considering the matter propose striving to form a Government of National Unity. This would comprise both supporters and opponents of the current regime, as well as independents who neither see themselves as regime insiders nor are involved in any opposition groups. Such a government would have sweeping powers that would enable it to institute real administrative and economic reforms, and genuinely keep the security agencies out of people’s daily lives.
– The Syrian leadership believes that the oppositionists gathered under the banner of the offshore Syrian National Council (SNC) cannot, in their current condition, become real partners. The regime has therefore apparently resumed discreet contacts with home-based opposition figures. According to some officials, however, the latter remain highly wary, fearing they could lose public support. The regime is also open to efforts being made by some external parties to mediate with certain groups and figures within the SNC.
– The Syrian leadership is in no doubt that it is facing a concerted onslaught by an alliance that includes a number of Arab and Western states alongside Turkey. It is energetically seeking to counter this by cementing its relations with Russia, China, Iran and other countries such as Iraq, without closing the door to other players. It is particularly interested, in this regard, in ongoing mediation efforts with Saudi Arabia.
It will take a while for the picture to become clear. Pending that, attention inside Syria will increasingly focus on the effects of the economic and financial embargo, and its impact on the people as well as the government. The talk of sectarian and military flashpoints, meanwhile, suggests that moves should be anticipated from the Syrian leadership in its confrontation with its armed opponents.
Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar.
Syria has agreed to allow Arab observers in to monitor the rights situation in the country and the implementation of an Arab League initiative to end months of unrest.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Monday that Damascus had agreed to sign the observer mission after making sure it did not violate its sovereignty, and after the Arab League accepted amendments demanded by the Syrian government.
“Signing the protocol is the start of cooperation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers’ mission from the Arab League,” Muallem told a news conference in Damascus adding that “Sovereignty is protected in the text of the protocol”.
“Article 8 of the Arab League charter protects existing structures and bans countries from interfering… In this protocol we are talking about protecting civilians from terrorist groups,” the top Syrian diplomat said.
Under the terms of the deal, which was signed at the AL headquarters in Cairo, the Arab observers are intended to oversee the implementation of an Arab League peace plan which calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from crisis-hit areas and the opening of negotiations between Damascus and the opposition under League auspices.
The Arab League had given Syria until Wednesday to ink the document and threatened to ask the UN Security Council to adopt its peace plan if Damascus refused to sign the deal.
On November 27, the 22-member League approved a range of economic sanctions against Syria for failing to admit observers.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March and according to the UN, 5,000 people have been killed in the country over the past nine months.
While the West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of the killings, Damascus blames ”outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest that erupted in mid-March, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
In interviews with Israeli news outlets over the past few months, the Syrian opposition members have clearly expressed their vision for the future of Syria and their interest in establishing relations with the Tel Aviv regime.