Friday, August 1, 2014

Will Gaza Ceasefire Lead To Hamas, Israel, US Meet In Cairo?

Will Gaza Ceasefire Lead To Hamas, Israel, US Meet In Cairo?
                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi
Does the 72 hour ceasefire in the three week long conflict in Gaza brokered by the UN and US advance peace? Just as I write this comes news that the Palestinians have captured an Israeli soldier. Has the ceasefire collapsed? I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Even though the UN’s credibility is bruised, UN agencies are gamely trying to do their bit. The UN Human Rights Council by condemning Israel last week for “disproportionate use of force in Gaza” must have embarrassed the US. It was the solitary country which opposed the resolution. Even its European allies abstained. India voted with the 29 members supporting the resolution.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in New Delhi talking to External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, when the humanitarian ceasefire was announced. Even while talking to his Indian counterpart, he kept half an eye on the critical situation in Gaza.

In the current “Operation Protective Edge”, Israel and its backers are facing a peculiar problem. The Western Media, which fudges issues in favour of Israel, is not carrying as much credit with the audiences globally.

The reason for the diminishing credibility of the mainstream media is the exponential growth of social media. The sanitized version of events that was dished out to US audiences, for instance, of what their country (or Israel) was doing in various theatres of conflicts, is now being replaced by the real time narratives of the parallel media, the new websites, blogs.

Israeli bombardment of Gaza has been brutal. But if you watch the main TV channels, the effort is to focus on Ukraine, Ebola virus, Boko Haram and the shooting war in Tripoli. When it becomes impossible to keep away from Gaza, appears Wolf Blitzer with explanatory discussions tilted one way. Bring into focus that blood soaked child or women buried beneath the debris of the school which was their shelter, and the anchor cleverly shifts the guilt onto, well, the “blame game”. Which means that the rockets fired from the vicinity of a school invited a massive Israeli retaliation which killed 16 sleeping children, or even the very people leading the humanitarian response. But it is Hamas rockets, after all, which invited Israeli bombardment. The story is thus balanced. In this “balance” is the fudge which is beginning to pall. Alternative narratives, which reveal quite the opposite, are gaining in credibility.

Not a good time for the US image anywhere in West Asia.

Remember Hillary Clinton waving her hand in February 2012 asking Bashar al Assad to “get out of the way”. Assad is still around. Again, her variation on Vini Vidi Vici – “I came, I saw and he died” in Tripoli. This statement of her’s was accompanied by brutal images of Qaddafi being gored to death.

Even accepting that was a moment of American triumph, how does one square the boast with the murder of the US ambassador in Benghazi? Or, endless conflict now centered around Tripoli?

The Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, the Caliphate being declared by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in the Sunni parts of Iraq, contiguous with parts of Syria: is this the trophy of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003?

Even on the “war of choice” in Afghanistan, there is no demonstrable American grip on the situation. No one quite knows how the audit of votes will be conducted to satisfy the contending candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. In any case, the date of US departure from Kabul has already been advanced to 2016. In other words, US troops will eventually depart only on the next US President’s watch.

This is the general state of play when Kerry has immersed himself into the latest Israeli – Hamas spat. The Egyptian peace proposal of July 15, was rejected by Hamas because the Palestinian group was not consulted by Cairo. The proposal urged Hamas to stop its rockets being fired at Israel. But it did not address Hamas demand for ending the Israeli blockade.

Why has Hamas accepted the latest ceasefire? Because this UN proposal is without conditions. During the 72 hour respite from Israeli bombardment and Hamas’ teasing rocketing, delegations are being assembled by the Israelis, Hamas and Fatah to congregate in Cairo to discuss a more durable peace. Hamas will ask: what has Fatah done to deserve an invitation? William Burns, US Deputy Secretary of State and Frank Lowenstein, Kerry special envoy for West Asia, are on their way to Cairo. There is speculation that Kerry himself may join the discussions. Difficult to believe that an abrupt peace is possible.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Gaza: India’s Two Positions, One In Parliament Another At UN

Gaza: India’s Two Positions, One In Parliament Another At UN
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi 
Sushma Swaraj’s statement on Palestine in the Rajya Sabha on Monday so pleased Jerusalem that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked her that evening over the telephone. But the goodwill thus generated was fading by Wednesday when New Delhi, having changed its mind, voted with the resolution at the UN “condemning Israel for disproportionate use of force in Gaza”.

Twenty nine of UN Human Rights Councils’ 47 members voted in favour of creating a commission of inquiry to look at possible war crimes committed by Israel. Only the United States voted against the resolution, while 17 states abstained, including 10 European states.

“Along with the BRICS, India reaffirmed its commitment to a two state solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestine State”, with “East Jerusalem as its capital”.

The altered stand has caused the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and its missions at the UN to work overtime trying to persuade New Delhi not to veer away from the special relationship it now has with the Jewish state. The Israeli embassy in New Delhi must feel a little handicapped because it has in place only an Ambassador designate. Efforts are on to fast-forward his presentation of credentials. The US embassy too is in the hands of a stop-gap ambassador.

There is a view that the discrepancy between the statement in Parliament and endorsement of the UNHRC resolution could have been avoided had the External Affairs Minister accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil. The extent to which BRICS conditions Modi’s understanding of foreign affairs will become clearer during his meeting with President Obama in September. The Israelis have been quick to point that of all the BRICS countries they consider India their close ally. Hence their disappointment with the UNHRC vote.

In 1990, India had lost its central pillar in foreign affairs with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A nervous New Delhi did not merely shift, it lurched towards the US and Israel.

The process of opening embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi was speeded up by P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991.

Even after the exchange of ambassadors, there was very little movement in bilateral ties, inviting then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ satirical remark during his visit to India in 1992:
“Indo-Israeli relations are like French perfume: they are to be smelt not drunk.”

Substance in the relationship came after the Kargil War in 1999 when Israel supplied India with ammunition for its artillery. There has been no looking back. In fact the US-Israel duet became the most powerful influence on the conduct of Indian Foreign Policy.

The affair with the US reached its peak with the Civil Nuclear Deal of 2005. Then, by voting for a Western sponsored resolution at the IAEA in Vienna, meant to reprimand Iran, India signaled a final good bye to its long standing policy of non alignment.

That step pleased Washington and Jerusalem quite as much as Sushma Swaraj’s statement in the Rajya Sabha. Israeli Newspapers like Jerusalem Post also applauded her stand that “the present conflict in Gaza could have been ended and peace restored by now if Hamas had accepted the ceasefire proposal from Egypt”.

Unfortunately, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shares Saudi Arabia’s visceral hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood which was once Egypt’s lifeline to Hamas in Gaza. Egypt discussed the proposed ceasefire with Israel but not with Hamas. Hence Hamas’ rejection of the proposal.

There are other reasons for Hamas’ defiance.

When war breaks out, the first casualty is the truth. Since the US (and Israel) has been involved in a near continuous chain of wars in the Arab world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, western media has been purveying propaganda. The result of this diminishing credibility is that Israel may well be losing the propaganda war in this round.

In a recent Al Jazeera TV discussion, social media experts in Jerusalem, London and Johannesburg, established that Israeli government propaganda on the social media received only 2,00,000 tweets as opposed to 4.5 million received by Hamas.

Another study, cited by the British expert on the panel, Ben White, shows that support for Israel in the US has dwindled to 57 percent.

Surely, New Delhi too must be alert to these trends. This, in addition to the fact that millions of Indians work in Arab lands must be a sobering thought. The Arabs whom Indians live with (if not the rulers) are sympathetic to the Palestinian victims of an asymmetrical war.

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