Saturday, 15 April 2017 02:46

On Tillerson's visit to Moscow

Rex Tillerson arrived to Moscow on Tuesday, having paralysed the traffic in Russia's capital, as police was blocking the roads to make a free way for his cortege, making blocked in traffic Muscovites send millions of curses in his address. The paralysis on the roads caused by Tillerson is very similar to the paralysis that has recently occurred in bilateral ties between the two powers, following the chemical attack in Idlib province reportedly committed by the loyal to Bashar al-Assad forces and then the strike of the SAA air base in Homs by the US «Tomahawk» missiles. The bilateral ties have reached the very low since the collapse of the Soviet Union and were about to pierce the bottom. The global uproar was at such extent that clash between the West and Moscow over Syria seemed inevitable. Russia has withdrawn from the the US-Russia air safety memorandum in SAR airspace and made it clear that in case of any further aggression threatening its safety will respond correspondingly to the challenge. Before the visit Rex Tillerson has sent Russia a kind of verbal ultimatum-like message to chose the side: with Iran and Assad or with the US. He was expected to bring to Moscow this ultimatums and tough rhetoric. But apparently he has lost them on his way to Moscow. The talks were finally constructive.

The global attention was engrossed to the visit of Tillerson. The allies were impressed by strong démarche of Trump all had been waiting from him, as it has put to an end the US Obama’s doctrine of relative non-involvement. So they expected that Rex Tillerson, will talk tough with Russia’s officials and make them sense how far the US can go and that it is in Russia’s interests to abandon the policy that brings it «to the wrong side of history». The «tomahawks» gave Tillerson a very strong position for talks. However, Russia has appeared to be not frightened, or at least demotivated, but concentrated and preparing for the tougher times and deeper confrontation, though keeping the doors for talks open. And the Secretary of State entered exactly those doors.

Tillerson held two much awaited meetings: with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and with President Vladimir Putin, meeting with whom was under the question mark until the last moment. The bilan is not so negative as it was expected to be. However, negative moments can hardly be overcome in the nearest foreseeable future.

Ukrainian issues apparently will not be resolved for a long time, until the US change position, so sanctions and damaged relations are likely to remain. In case of Ukraine only issue of Luhansk and Donbass may be settled in the framework of Minsk agreements. But Crimea, return of which to Ukraine was added by Trump's administration as an obligatory condition for ties normalisation, will literally never be returned to Ukraine, both because of historical justice and choice of the Crimean people, who have been struggling for independence from Ukraine since the very collapse of the Soviet Union. The history never lies.

Tillerson and Putin have failed to find the common ground in evaluations of the deadly chemical attack in Idlib province,situation in Syria in general and Russia's support of Assad. Support, which Russia continually rejects, explaining its role in Syria exclusively as of backing of the SAA forces in their fight with terrorists.

Russia keeps on demanding the investigation of the chemical attack while for the US and its allies it is an absolutely clear affair. Russia has once again blocked resolution in the UN Security Council that condemns regime of Assad for committing the atroce attack, calling for independent investigation. Previously Vladimir Putin has declared that Russia cannot take measures against regime of Bashar al-Assad until there are results of independent international investigations proving the guilt of the regime. Russia disapproves of the US strike on Syria, considering it a dangerous move to further destabilisation of the region and the world.

Tillerson's acknowledgement of the fact that the trust between the two countries is on  low level and that "the world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationships" is a promising sign, giving more or less positive perspective for the ties normalisation, or at least stabilisation. Another promising thing for the world's stability, is establishment of a bilateral working group, that is to "examine" the so-called "irritants" in relations between Moscow and Washington. Moreover, Russia is ready to come back to the bilateral air safety memorandum in Syria, thus somehow the sides have retreated  to the point before the "tomahawks" attack.

Russia and the US apparently have  very similar interests in many areas of the global agenda, as fight on terrorism, however in case of some of them they have totally different approaches to how to achieve the desired result. Even in case of Syria, both sides are eager to put an end to the brutal conflict, to see united and stable Syria, but they see the conflict settlement in different ways, if not to say opposite ones. Assad's family reign coming to an end is a clear fact for the US side and its allies, while Russia's side sees other scenarios. And to respond to Tillerson's appeal to sever ties with Assad and to work with the United States on different initiatives in the Middle East in a positive way, would mean for Russia a grave failure, geopolitical defeat of its six years conflict involvement and its policy. Russians either win or die but never give up – another important trait of Russian mentality coming from the depths of history. However Mr. Tillerson does not like historical excursus, though in case of Russia it is very useful to look deep into history books. Even being exposed by regime of Assad for many times during the six years of the bloody years, Russia will continue its general line, taken from the very beginning, as it is a matter of honor. Russia is sure that overthrow of Assad would bring to far more bloody and dangerous turbulences than his temporary remaining into power. And on this issue Washington and Moscow would hardly find a common ground unless the Syrians finally agree upon the launch of political transition and take the fate of their own country in their own hands.

Trump apparently was happy with the way how the visit of the US Secretary of State has passed. After having brusquely changed his views upon NATO to diametrically opposite ones, he claimed during his press-conference with Stoltenberg that "it would be a fantastic thing" if the US, Nato and Russia got along better. However at the same time he assumed that "it may be just the opposite".

So it is white, but can be black – it seems that it is characteristic feature of the current administration which have no clear understanding of not only what is exactly going on, but even lack understanding of what it actually wants. There is no strategy, and tactics is predetermined by momentary gusts, influenced by whoever. And it has such a scale, that the allies camp should be grateful for the US strike of Syria to a mother of three, Ivanka Trump, who was shocked by the photos of dead children.

In such circumstances it is practically impossible to predict how situation will develop both on bilateral and international tracks, as long as administration is absolutely unpredictable itself. Thus Russia following the Secretary of State visit will host trilateral meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of Iran, Syria and of its own, apparently forging their alliance stronger. Nothing makes Russia more stubborn and firm on its positions than abruptness of the US administration.

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:55

The complications in Yemen

The Yemeni conflict is frequently called a forgotten war, because in terms of media coverage it is always overshadowed by Syria and Iraq. But its tragedy is no less serious, and has no justification; this is the only simple thing about the conflict. Politically and historically it is a complete mess, more so than the public imagines.
 
The roots of the bloodshed go deep; we must take this into account when analyzing the situation. The current crisis started not in 2014 but in June 2004, and its direct roots are in the 1962 revolution in North Yemen that ended more than 1,000 years of Zaidi rule.
 
In 2004, the conflict flared when dissident Zaidi cleric Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi launched an uprising against the Yemeni government, following an attempt by the authorities to arrest him. The government accused the Zaidis and other Islamist groups of trying to overthrow it and the republican system. Iran was accused of managing and fueling the uprising with financial support.
 
The rebels said they were defending themselves, and accused the government of committing an act of aggression. The conflict has since killed thousands of people and caused severe economic losses for the country.
 
In 2011, the Houthis tried to ride the wave of the 2011 revolution, expressing their full support for democracy. They overthrew the local government in Saada and established their own rule, independent from Sanaa. Following the revolution, Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down after 33 years as president, and was succeeded by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
 
Yemenis had many reasons to be discontent with the government, including enormous corruption, high levels of unemployment, economic decline and the absence of prospects for youths. These formed the core of the uprising, which was part of the Arab Spring. A change of leader could hardly bring significant change to the country; it needed in-depth reforms and a full restructuring of the governmental system.
 
Since 2011, Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthi movement, had been sustainably undermining the authorities in Sanaa. It overthrew them in January 2015 after months of clashes and protests, again seizing on popular grievances such as the rising price of oil to gain support from ordinary Yemenis. Pro-Saleh forces joined Ansar Allah, even though the Houthis supported the 2011 revolution against him.
  
Hadi was forced to leave Sanaa, and the Houthis seized key provinces, though they have been expelled from southern Yemen due to Operation Decisive Storm. The campaign is carried out by a broad international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by many major global and regional players, including the US. It is accompanied by Operation Restoring Hope, whose aim is to reach a political solution, but so far without concrete results.
 
Seven million people are on the brink of starvation due to the conflict. The health care system has collapsed. The conflict is worsening and becoming sectarian. The Houthis can no longer deny receiving backing from Iran, which they have been trying to conceal since 2004.
 
It is difficult to deliver humanitarian aid, especially in areas under Houthi control, not only due to airstrikes, but because of Houthi denial of access to aid convoys, and provocations by local community leaders. A Russian humanitarian convoy recently faced such a provocation while distributing aid in the Darawan camp for internally displaced Yemenis, forcing it to stop its work. Such cases are common and lead to the continuation of people’s suffering.
 
Attempts at constructive dialogue have failed as the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces have violated agreements and cease-fires. But a cease-fire is urgently needed, at least to allow humanitarian convoys to reach those in need, and at best to launch a political process and implement a UN roadmap.
 
The insurgents are becoming global troublemakers, recently planting underwater mines in Bab Al-Mandab, thus threatening the security of navigation in one of the most important waterways.
 
The situation is aggravated by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Yemen is bombed not only by coalition forces but also by the US, which has been striking terrorist positions in Yemen since the mid-2000s, inflicting civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes are undoubtedly causing severe civilian losses, as in any similar situation.
 
Peace must prevail soon, not in the name of politics but for civilians. The coalition and its international supporters, as well as the legitimate President Hadi and forces loyal to him, are eager to work on a political solution and an inclusive government. But the international community does not have sufficient influence over the Houthis, whose actions belie the innocent image they are trying to portray. They are first to be blamed for civilian suffering.
 
Their slogan “death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam” hardly correlates with the image of an oppressed people fighting for democracy and equal rights. The slogan is reminiscent of something heard all too often in Iran.
 
Continuing violence and sectarianism are creating regional instability and a breeding ground for extremist groups and terrorism. A roadmap to settle the conflict exists. The hardest question remains how to make all sides speak with each other. They have to demonstrate a high level of responsibility for the fate of their own compatriots, who have become hostages, and put aside politics to work on building a common fate.
 
The work of government institutes that are trying to function despite the conflict shows the high potential of Yemenis to overcome the crisis. The international community should take an active part in the peace process.
 
Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1073521/opinion
Published in Tribune

John Kerry’s speech this week clearly and rationally explained why the status quo will not enable Israel to maintain its Jewish and democratic character. Are Israelis paying attention?

By Elie Podeh and Nimrod Goren

Throughout 2016, analysts were wondering what – if at all – will be President Obama’s final move regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The options discussed included a presidential speech (like the Cairo speech in 2009), updating the Clinton parameters of 2000, and the advancement of a resolution at the UN Security Council. Eventually, all answers were somewhat right: UN Security Council Resolution 2334 was not initiated by the U.S., but it was definitely encouraged by the American administration. Obama himself did not deliver a speech, but his Secretary of State, John Kerry, did, conveying the frustration and disappointment of the administration from both sides, and especially from Israel’s settlement policy.

The Kerry speech introduced parameters for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They did not differ much from the Clinton Parameters, and were more ambiguous and concise. Still, it was a much-needed move in light of the regional changes that took place since 2000, and of issues which gained traction since (such as Israel’s request that Palestinians recognize it as a ‘Jewish state’). The updated parameters provide Israelis – public and politicians alike – more clarity regarding the two-state solution and the steps needed in order to get there. They also generate new momentum by enabling the discussion on an end-game agreement to be based on a recent document, which is part of a set of international moves to advance conflict resolution, and not on a plan devised sixteen years ago.

The Trump effect

A key difference between the Kerry parameters and those of Clinton is the reference made by Kerry to the Arab Peace Initiative (which was not yet published in 2000) and to regional ramifications of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Kerry highlighted the unique opportunity that Israel is currently facing – an opportunity to establish normal ties with Arab countries, and to even launch a joint security framework. Kerry stressed that the fulfillment of this opportunity is clearly linked to progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace, contrasting recent claims by Netanyahu that normalization between Israel and Arab countries can precede Israeli-Palestinian peace. In his speech, Kerry tried to convince Israelis that peace will bring them concrete regional benefits. He focused on relations with the Arab world and on chances for enhanced security, but he could also have mentioned the EU’s offer for a Special Privileged Partnership with Israel and the future Palestinian state, as another incentive for peace.

Kerry refrained from addressing a major change that took place since the Clinton parameters were issued – the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following the Hamas takeover of Gaza. The Palestinian divide is a major obstacle on the road for a two-state solution, and is one that the international community tends to avoid due to the sensitivity of dealing with Hamas. It is worth remembering that because of this obstacle, the negotiations between Olmert and Abbas in 2007-8 were aimed to reach a “shelf-agreement” only; one that will be implementable only after the restoration of Palestinian unity. While the Quartet report of July 2016 focused on this thorny issue, Kerry decided to skip it altogether.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the 2016 AIPAC Police Conference in Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. (Photo courtesy of AIPAC)

Paradoxically, it was Trump’s victory and his positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue that may have increased Obama’s motivation to make a final move. The UN Security Council resolution and the Kerry speech leave a legacy for Trump to deal with, but they also provide clear guidelines for future American administrations and for other countries that want to contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. These steps demonstrated the continuity in American policy since 1967 regarding the occupied territories and Jerusalem.

Despite efforts along the years to mask and downplay differences between Israel and the U.S. on these issues, the American position – of Republican and Democratic administrations alike – has remained remarkably the same. A different policy by the Trump administration, if such will actually be taken, will be the exception. One can only wonder why hasn’t the Obama administration introduced its clear-cut positions earlier, during a time that still allowed the international community to act on them.

Looking in the mirror

The Kerry speech put a mirror in front of the Israeli government and society. Kerry clearly and rationally explained why the continuation of the status quo will not enable Israel to maintain its Jewish and democratic character in the long run. The ongoing occupation and the expansion of settlements makes the two-state solution gradually less feasible, and may lead to an irreversible situation. Those in the Israeli Right, who are ideologically committed to the settlements, do not have a reasonable answer to this dilemma, except for their wishful thinking that the Palestinians will somehow disappear or move to Jordan. The renowned Palestinian scholar Edward Said defined the role of intellectuals as “speaking truth to power.” In our case, it was the opposite. The power Kerry spoke explained the unsolvable contradiction between the occupation and Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature.

Netanyahu and his government responded to the American move with unprecedented bashing of an acting American administration. Netanyahu is looking forward to Trump’s inauguration, expecting a much more sympathetic approach by the next president. However, while American positions may change, the international consensus regarding the Palestinian issue is not likely to erode. This was demonstrated at the UN Security Council, and will be demonstrated again at the upcoming international conference in Paris. The Israeli government’s enthusiasm of Trump’s victory, should be replaced with genuine concern for Israel’s global standing, and for a change of policy that will help Israel regain the international legitimacy it is currently losing.

While American and international actions are important, they alone will not change facts on the ground and resolve the conflict. Eventually, Israelis and Palestinians themselves will have to take the lead. For this to happen, a courageous and pro-peace leadership is needed, as well as a strong civil society that challenges policies that jeopardize the two-state solution and lead Israel to increased isolation.

Prof. Elie Podeh is a Board Member at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and teaches Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Nimrod Goren is the Head of the Mitvim Institute. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Material by +972 https://972mag.com/kerrys-parameters-force-israelis-to-take-a-hard-look-in-the-mirror/124070/

Published in Tribune

This publication opens series of "IMESClub Interviews". Discussion took place on the 28th of August in Moscow. Professor Vitaliy Naumkin answered several thorny questions posed by IMESClub Pesident Maria Dubovikova . 

 

Maria Dubovikova: I would like to start this conversation with a question that sums up the whole decade. How would you characterize this decade for the Middle East? Which mistakes were made by the intra- and outer-regional players, by the international community?

Vitaly Naumkin: Well, I would prefer not to talk in terms of  “mistakes”, it’s much better to talk about the positive and negative trends.  Speaking about the positive trends that took place in these last ten years, a good economic growth in most countries of the Middle East could be mentioned in particular. After all, we're not just talking about the Arab world, but about the whole Middle East, right?

M.D.: – Yes!

V.N.:  For example a considerable economic success of Turkey can be specially noted. Moreover many Arab countries have experienced economic growth, modernization, and development of modern financial and economic institutions. Somewhere this process was fast, even including some countries that have experienced the "Arab Spring," somewhere rather slow. Good results of economic development were shown, for example, by Egypt. Therefore, we can talk about different trends and shifts that were positive, not negative. Among them there are the process of shaping of the civil society which is however rather limited; spreading, not everywhere of course, of high technologies, especially information technologies. A number of countries are establishing cell-phone networks. The growth of the Internet use. Increasing number of educated youth who are getting education not only in their native countries but also abroad. There are many other trends that can be characterized as concrete steps towards a modernization, modern development and general integration into the basic matrix of global development.

Among the negative trends it is possible to mention stagnation, mainly in the political life, and a number of other processes that especially led to the “Arab Spring”. It is an absence of means of vertical social mobility for people, monopolization of all the levers of state control including financial and governmental resources by the bureaucratic elites. And, of course, high level of unemployment in some countries, poverty, etc.

The Middle East is corroded by the inner conflicts. It is the growth of interconfessional, ethnic, interstate and intraconfessional contradictions, which are often very severe. Also there are many unregulated old conflicts, primarily the Arab-Israeli.

Back to the question about the mistakes, it is possible to name the growth of religious fundamentalism, extremism, inability of the regimes to deal with the terrorism among them. All that leads to the serious deterioration of the image of people living in the region beyond its borders: in Europe, in the West in general. The intrusion of the Allied Forces to Iraq in 2003 can be undoubtedly considered as a mistake. As a result the interventionists failed to provide security, first of all – for the country’s people. In a decade more than 200 thousand people died, several millions became refugees or were displaced within the country, only 400 thousand of 1400 thousand Christians left. There was a mass exodus of Christians from Iraq. The minorities, mainly Christians are discriminated, there are non-stop terrorist acts and the hostility between the Sunni and the Shiah is periodically getting worse. Of course, the situation has partially stabilized – it has ameliorated. But generally it is possible to say that the plans of our US partners to quickly establish a modern democratic state, eliminate the internal conflicts and unite the nation have failed. I believe that Bush's interventionalism was the main mistake and it was replaced by Obama's administration milder attitude to the region and to the interventions. However, Bush's heritage still lives and it will take very long to remove its traces. That is why the interventionalism and the attempts to project their own model of liberal democracy face a severe resistance of the elites and the people. This continues to deteriorate the security in the region and to impede the mutual understanding between the Middle Eastern countries and external players.

M.D.: Speaking about the Gulf countries having the particular influence on the development of the Middle East, how would you estimate their influence? Which effect would the current policy of the two power centers – Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have on the development of Middle East, positive or negative?

V.N.: Regarding the Gulf countries, they largely represent a successful model of development, primarily because they poses huge financial resources. They can easily switch between these resources from one field to another and easily manipulate them in order to neutralize grievances and solve social problems if necessary. But at the same time, these countries do not have any immunity to the existing protest sentiments - while other countries deal with the more severe forms of such sentiments. Take the issue of Bahrain, where there was a very powerful protest movement. Although it was neutralized, the discontent of the two thirds of the population belonging to the Shia and consider themselves disadvantaged remains. There is a difficult internal situation in Saudi Arabia, which also has a grain of conflict.

It is impossible to ignore the intense rivalry between the different states of the Persian Gulf, including one in the religious and ideological sphere. Take a rather intense rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar relied on the support of the "Muslim Brotherhood" and the Saudis - on the Salafis, and as we can see by the recent Egyptian events, they supported the military coup in Egypt. While previously these countries acted together as supporters of the Islamic protest movement, and was considered that they are leading all new Islamic forces to the power, today their views diverged. Saudi Arabia, before oriented on supporting the Salafist parties, plays well with the new secular forces today, including those representing the old regimes, such as the Egyptian military. Qatar also remains committed to the "Muslim Brotherhood" which has lost ground in Egypt, and together with Turkey acts in their support.

So I am not inclined to consider all the countries of the Gulf as a single entity. For example, the United Arab Emirates sharply opposed the "Muslim Brotherhood" from the outset, limited their activities in the country and subjected their representatives to repression.

The Gulf States are playing a double role in the region. They contribute to the financing of a number of projects in the Arab countries, assist in resolving their economic problems at no charge. But at the same time, impudent aggressiveness with which these countries are trying by force to resolve the internal conflict in Syria, only exacerbates the situation in the region and does not lead the Middle East to peace and stability.

M.D.: In a way, my next question concerns the Syrian problem. As the latest trend shows, Russia has began to play a more significant role in the Middle East and in many respects its interests are in conflict with the US policy. Do you think that the Middle East is able once again to become a field of confrontation of two powers as it was during the Cold War?

V.N.: I do not think it can. Firstly, because Russia does not enter an intense rivalry with the Americans for the area of influence. And the Russian influence in the region, to be honest, is very limited. Russia's main partners are still not the Arab states. This is, for example, Turkey. Although Turkey is a NATO member and wants to be admitted to the European Union, relations with Russia are very active, and developed very well in recent years. Turkey - one of the most important economic partners of our country, and Russia does not also have any sufficient political disagreements with it. The main stumbling stone in Russian - Turkish relations is the divergence of positions on the Syrian conflict. But this difference does not prevent the two countries from moving forward in increasing the volume of trade and economic cooperation, in the implementation of new projects, etc. I'm not talking about humanitarian relationships, the number of Russian tourists in Turkey, a flurry of activity on the business, etc. During the zero-sum game Turkey would be seen as a rival, as it is an ally of the potential enemy - the United States. Today is it impossible to pose a question this way. Moreover, today Russia has sufficient understanding with the Americans in the region. Russia and the U.S. are working together within the framework of the Quartet of international mediators in the settlement of the Arab- Israeli conflict. Our positions on the settlement differ only slightly. Russia, for example, does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization and works with this movement. Russia is more critical than the United States towards the Israel's plans for the development of territories, build settlements, but, nevertheless, the overall positions of Russia and the U.S. to the resolution are very similar, there is a close cooperation. Even on the issue of Iran, where there are serious differences, Russia and the United States will still cooperate acting in the format of the dialogue between Iran and the 5+1. Our country has repeatedly voted for the resolutions related to the response to the opacity of the Iranian nuclear program in UN Security Council. Iranian node in the context of non-proliferation is one of the main areas of cooperation with the United States. The same can be said about Afghanistan, even though it probably refers to Central Asia, but the Afghan issue is impossible to ignore because it is important for the entire Islamic world. As you know, Russia is also actively cooperating with America, without getting into the conflict and the American actions in Afghanistan, it is helping to build the Afghan state, helping the Americans to resolve supply issues of their contingent and ensure its safe withdrawal, acting fairly consistent, regardless of those difficulties that arise in Russian- American relations. Therefore, I see no reason for the rivalry between Russia and the U.S. in the region. Differences will persist. But even in the most tense case - with the Syrian conflict, where Russian and the United States assessments, policy plans and mode of conduct differ radically, there are still common interests. They consist in that firstly neither party wants to allow chaos in this country. At least, I see the interests of the United that way. Another thing is that some Russian politicians today have reason to blame Washington that it wants to create a controlled chaos out there. But still, it is in the American interest, in my opinion, to establish order and stability in the country. Secondly, talking about the coincidence of interests - we do not want to have a state of the Islamic radicals who would cut his throat to everyone who does not think like them there. There are also a common interest is to halt the bloodshed, civil war, to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But their views significantly diverge on how to do it and how to respond to what is going on. But look, despite the radical opposition between Russia and the U.S., they still have managed to agree on joint steps for the Geneva-2, the second international conference on Syria. And the chances are not completely lost yet.

M.D.: Let's go back a little bit back, to the Arab-Israeli conflict, you mentioned, and to the role of Russia and the United States, and then return to Syria. Under present conditions, when the region is absolutely losing its stability, what are the real prospects of efficient and effective conflict resolution? Do they disappear or are they still real enough?

V.N.: It is hard to be optimistic about the Arab-Israeli peace process, although there was a shift. The peace process has been resumed a term of nine months has been set to reach a final status agreement. I honestly do not think that it is possible to do it in nine months. There are several problems, among which it is possible to mention two most painful ones - the issue of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. If it is still possible to anticipate some possibility of compromise on Jerusalem, the problem of refugees today has very aggravated, as the Palestinian self-awareness has strongly increased and it is impossible to deny the right of refugees to return. But for Israel accepting this demand means causing the condemnation by the majority of population, for which such a decision would be a tragedy. For them, the return of Palestinians, let's say, in Haifa, located in what is now Israel, which Palestinians left in 1948, is unacceptable. How can this issue be resolved? In general, it can be solved, but it requires negotiation. Some reasonable Israeli politics offer the Palestinians the option of returning the refugees only to the territory of a future Palestinian state. In this case, the Palestinians will have the right either to return to their lost homes, or the right to compensation. However, these solutions do not suit all the Palestinians. And it is very difficult to suppose that it will be possible to overcome these grave differences in nine months.

Some Israeli partners have an idea to still return to the issue of an interim solution of the problem. To sign an agreement, say, with the exception of these two items, which will be deferred to a later period. Palestinians were always against the interim agreement before. In my opinion, in order to make them do it, they should get some serious concessions from the Israeli side, say, on the territorial issue. Would it be possible to implement it?

The border issue is also not easy, but there can still be an agreement because there is already a preliminary agreement, which can be taken. The idea of swaps, the territorial exchange, is acceptable for the moderate Palestinian elite, and, I believe, it has a potential to be realized.

The question arises whether it is possible to extend the deadline for reaching a final status from a nine-month to something else. Postpone it for a year, say. But in this case, there are legitimate concerns that the period may be extended to infinity, which will bury any hopes of a full settlement.

Today, Obama needs a success. He even wants to achieve something in the Middle East. At the moment, America loses a lot. There is a growing discontent in almost all corners of the Arab world against it. Look at what happened in Egypt! The Americans committed the same mistake twice, first they supported Mubarak, and they still reproached for betting on dictators. Then they quickly passed him and displeased those who hoped that they would support him. The U.S. has long worked with the "Muslim Brotherhood", enthusiastically talked about their democratic aspirations, their moderation, then the same Egyptian masses have allowed the military to remove the «Brothers» from power – now both "Brothers" and the new authorities are dissatisfied with the Americans. Yes, they were, in fact, always dissatisfied, because the United States, in their view, are entirely on the side of Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians. Now the new government of Egypt, the military and the civilian, including even liberal organizations, accuse the Americans of their support for the "Muslim Brotherhood". As a result the image of the United States has suffered greatly, their influence waned, their ability to manage processes occurring in the region declined. In Iraq, too, not everything is going well. In Afghanistan - the same thing. Libya is in a complete breakdown, chaos. Therefore, Obama must achieve at least something. We are not gloating about it, saying that America has lost two wars, that its policy towards the "Arab Spring" has failed. Who knows what will be the outcome of the US threats to launch an air-missile attack on Syria. If they choose a military intervention, it will not lead to the implementation of their goals and will cause huge damage to the region. We are totally against it. And, I think, Russia will support Obama's desire to resolve the Middle East conflict in all circumstances.

M.D.: Returning to the question of Syria. The other day, the Arab League after its meeting has condemned the chemical attack near Damascus, but refused to take part in any operation of the West, which was the completely different reaction compared to the case of Libya. What is the reason of such a sharp turn? Failure in Libya? Or this is some different understanding of the conflict?

V.N.: I believe this is both another understanding of the conflict and the "Libyan syndrome". There is no unity among the Arab countries. But if the Arab sponsors of intervention could push through the support of U.S. intervention, it still would (and it will if they manage) lead only to more bloodshed and to the hatred of more Muslims against the United States, and the people who will do it, will be responsible for it. They will look like American's puppets willing to dump stable regimes for their own selfish purposes. Will have to answer for it. The other day, an American colonel, who participated in the operation in Kosovo, McGregor, very well mentioned for this occasion that there are no bad guys and good guys in civil wars, there are only winners and losers, and one does not need to intervene. Civil wars were everywhere. During the American Civil War more people were killed than today in Syria.  We shall not speak about the casualties during the  civil war in Russia. And we still do not know who were the bad guys and the good guys. Kappel and Kolchak forces were the most brutal punishers. Today, many consider Kolchak a hero. In the civil war there is no right or wrong. So today, if the West wants to intervene in the war and make others win with their help - it will be a disaster. It is not for the West with his limited understanding of Middle Eastern societies to judge who is right and wrong. Not to mention the fact that the Americans will actually be standing shoulder to shoulder with those who hate Americans and their main ally - Israel, with those, who tomorrow, as it has happened in history, will turn their weapons against them, I think it would be a tragic error. I'm sure Obama understands this.

M.D.: To conclude our discussion, I suggest drawing interim results of the "Arab spring": who at the moment is among the losers, and who - among the winners?

V.N.: I do not know, who is who now.

M.D.: Even in case of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt?

V.N.: Well, we see very contradictory results. On the one hand, the Arab peoples have won, because they have shown that they are legitimate citizens of their countries, they can decide their own fate. On the other hand, it turned out that they are losers the same time. Because interest groups, various elites who mainly do not express the interests of the majority of the population, pursuing their own selfish goals, took advantage of the fruits of the mass protest movements. What did, for example, "Muslim Brotherhood" do in Egypt? Taking suddenly unexpected steps towards Islamization and the monopolization of power, they repeated the mistakes of Mubarak and caused resentment among those who voted for them.

 

Published in Interviews
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