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The Two-State Delusion

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Two decades after the signing of the declaration of principles (DOP) by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the White House lawn, there is something unreasonable in the world’s continued adherence to the Oslo paradigm, tattered and battered as it is by years of a bloody fiasco.

The Palestinian Arab leadership has consistently and adamantly rejected the two-state solution since its first articulation in 1937 by the British Peel commission[1] and has, as consistently, advocated the destruction of the Jewish state. Still, it undertook a successful public relations campaign in the 1980s promoting the notion of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—”the occupied territories.”

Over the years and especially in the wake of the DOP, the Palestinian demand for statehood has gained rapid political momentum and international acceptance. A succession of Israeli prime ministers—from Shimon Peres, to Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Binyamin Netanyahu—embraced the idea, as did U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The paradigm for a final peace includes among its primary components Israeli territorial withdrawal and Palestinian sovereignty, political separation with reconciliation, compromise, and coexistence.

Yet twenty years on, the two parties find themselves further apart despite years of diplomatic wrangling. It is thus past time to examine and invalidate the paradigm that has taken hold in the hope that a new and less sanguinary one will take root.

A History of Failure

The concept of a Palestinian state appears just and reasonable. It evolves from the notion of a right to national self-determination for the stateless Palestinian people and their demand to end an Israeli presence in the territories captured in 1967. The terminology of decolonization regarding Jews who have settled in those territories fits this narrative of thwarted native Palestinian rights; ending the “illegality” of Israeli rule over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem is a global political stipulation for conflict-resolution. From the November 1988 resolution in Algiers that called for Palestinian independence to the extensive diplomatic campaign of September 2011 to promote Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, the PLO dramatically altered the political parameters of the conflict and its resolution. In sketching the two-state solution of Israel and Palestine as representing complementary rather than contradictory elements in the puzzle of peace-making, values of equality and freedom radiated from both sides.

The Palestinian state idea had been proposed repeatedly in the post-1967 era,[2] and its feasibility, viability, and desirability were analyzed and advocated again and again. The idea was central to the Arab-originated Fahd plan of 1981 and the Fez plan of 1982 and was reintroduced two decades later in 2002 by the Saudis as the Beirut peace plan. On the Jewish side, the nongovernmental Council for Peace and Security founded in 1988 was book-ended by the so-called Geneva initiative of 2003—headed by two failed politicians, Yossi Beilin and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak—with centrist Labor and leftist political parties contributing their own details along the way, all promoting a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The two-state solution emerged within PLO circles in 1988 when Bassam Abu Sharif, a political advisor to Arafat, presented a position paper on the theme.[3]

However, when the Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO were signed in September 1993, there was no explicit mention that the peace process would culminate in a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had in 1974 rejected the notion of a “third state” between Israel and Jordan,[4] had reiterated this position in an autobiographical work in 1979, contending that a Palestinian “mini-state” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would serve as a stage toward the “secular, democratic state of Palestine” that would rise “on the ruins of the state of Israel.”[5] Four years before concluding the historic agreement with Arafat at the White House, Rabin asserted that a Palestinian state would be a time-bomb for chaos and warfare,[6] and even with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, it remained Rabin’s belief that the final version of the Palestinian entity must be less than a sovereign state.[7]

With that said, Palestinian sovereignty was, nevertheless, anticipated as the end-product of the Oslo process. Israel had acknowledged Palestinian peoplehood and rights in the 1978 Camp David-negotiated framework agreement for Middle East peace. It then recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, agreed to the founding of the PA and its police force in 1994, and implemented territorial withdrawals from towns and rural areas in Judea-Samaria and Gaza in 1994-97. The International Donors’ Committee provided billions of dollars in aid to the PA, which established institutions for what could be termed a state in formation. Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party in 1993, said he would abrogate the Oslo accords, but as prime minister in 1996, he failed to do so.[8] The Hebron protocol of January 1997 and the Wye River memorandum of October 1998 demonstrated that Netanyahu operated within the Oslo paradigm for peace by relinquishing Israeli control over land, which was linked to explicit Palestinian obligations such as combating terrorist organizations and preventing incitement. Soon afterward, the Israeli government cancelled additional withdrawals because the PLO did not fulfill its commitments but not because Jerusalem dispensed with the Oslo idea.

Faith in Oslo did not dissolve even when failure struck over and over again. In July 2000 at the Camp David summit, Ehud Barak offered Arafat Palestinian statehood with control over approximately 92 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and a political capital in the vicinity of Jerusalem. But Arafat spurned the offer, and a reign of terror and suicide-bombing ensued.

Despite the basic breakdown of diplomacy and although U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross admitted that Oslo had failed, he remained convinced—having written eight hundred pages of close text detailing the intricacies, efforts, obstacles, formulae, and setbacks regarding “the missing peace”—that “there is room for creative diplomacy.”[9] Should failure not have brought about a reevaluation and some change in policy orientation?

In January 2002, President Bush called for an “end to occupation and [for] a peaceful democratic Palestinian state” as the prescription for peace, a formula endorsed a year later by the international “Quartet” (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations). Another year later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also hitched onto the Palestinian state bandwagon as did his successors in Jerusalem—Olmert and Netanyahu—a few years hence. Yet negotiations, such as those between Olmert and PA president Mahmoud Abbas in the latter part of 2007, dragged on without results. The plethora of issues—from settlements and prisoners, to Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, to the Fatah/Hamas split—preoccupied and confounded the Israeli-Palestinian discussions without any satisfactory conclusion.[10]

On May 19, 2011, President Barack Obama affixed his name to the distinguished roster of supporters of a Palestinian state by advocating that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”[11] Netanyahu reacted sharply that the Palestinian state could not come at the “expense of Israeli existence,” affirming that the 1967 borders were “indefensible.”[12] This set the political stage for a dispute between Washington and Jerusalem and assured that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were not likely to renew soon. The Oslo paradigm was frozen: There were to be no negotiations, no Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and no peace in the offing. The three “nos” on Israel formulated at the 1967 Khartoum Arab summit—no negotiations, no recognition, and no peace—had been transformed and reformulated with their political core unchanged.[13]

Twenty years of the Oslo process filled with optimism and enthusiasm, adorned with Nobel prizes, grand summitry, and historic declarations that peace was “just around the corner” have delivered no peace. Firmly entrenched in its place, however, is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance written on a grand political scale. A final status agreement should have been consummated by 1999, five years following the “Gaza-Jericho First” stage in 1994, but neither Rabin’s assassination in 1995 nor the murder of 1,084 Israelis from September 2000 to October 2010 (along with 250 from 1993 until July 2000)[14] could quash efforts at advancing the process. True believers continue to argue that once a Palestinian state in the territories is established, the Oslo paradigm will be validated. For those afflicted with “Osloitis,” when the evidence counters their utopian paradigm, the bearer of bad news is defamed rather than commended for contributing to an alternative conceptual construct.

Oslo’s Unaddressed Fallacies

At the heart of the failed Oslo paradigm are a core group of fallacies that have been promoted as truths: that the land can sustain two opposing population groups; that the Arab goal of destroying Israel can be appeased through “painful concessions” (rather than defeated by an Israeli victory); and that this is not a conflict based on something as elemental and incendiary as religion. Not one can withstand close scrutiny.

Geopolitical conflict is frequently a function of a dearth of resources and cannot be resolved by a mere wish for human harmony. In this case, both land and water are scarce, and the less than 40-mile width of the land from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan River is insufficient to accommodate two rival states with expanding populations and vibrant national ambitions. While there are a few small states living cheek by jowl like the Netherlands and Luxembourg that are not at each others throats, they do not face the other factors that have contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

There is, moreover, a great likelihood that a Palestinian state ensconced in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would evoke a powerful zeal for further land concessions, not only from the Arabs of Ramallah or Nablus, but also among many Israeli Arabs in the Galilee, for example, of whom opinion surveys indicate their belief that Jews are foreigners in the Middle East.[15] Such a state could easily foment an insurgency within Israel, bringing along further disruptions and destruction in its wake. Indeed, the Palestinian belief that Tiberias, Haifa, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa are lost cities of Arab Palestine fuels a deep-seated rejectionism, which is manifested in the leadership’s adamant refusal to recognize Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish state.[16]

Finally, the war against Israel is little more than a modern application of Qur’anic hostility toward Jews, expressing the ethos of jihad and the religious definition of Palestine as a sacred waqf (Islamic religious endowment). Buoyed with this faith and ideology, Iran and Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Muslim elements dedicate themselves to destroying Israel once and for all. In this, they are only more obvious than the so-called moderate Fatah leadership, which makes use of religious imagery and imperatives whenever it suits its purpose. A two-state solution is, in essence, a betrayal of Islam although a Palestinian state could become the springboard for the ongoing campaign to undermine, overrun, and eradicate the Jewish state—fi Sabil Allah (in the path of God). All this is so because, as article 15 of the Hamas covenant declares, “the Palestinian problem is a religious problem.”[17]

The irrefutable conclusion is that the Oslo process brought no discernible change in the Palestinian attitude toward Israel. It remains a state that has to be eliminated. In May 2013, Mahmoud Abbas repeated the PLO’s position that the Palestinians would refuse, as they indeed have, to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.[18] Jibril Rajoub, Fatah Central Committee member, declared soon thereafter that the Palestinians were the enemies of Israel, adding that if the Palestinians had nuclear weapons they would use them.[19] No less acerbic was a remark by Jamal Zahalka, Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, who on July 31, 2013, railed against his fellow-citizens and parliamentarians: “We [the Arabs] were here before you [the Jews], and we’ll be here after you’re gone.”[20]

In addition, the Oslo paradigm founders on the twin rocks of Palestinian factionalism and extremism as Palestinian society is hopelessly fissured by traditional identities and loyalties with extended family and tribal ties enduring despite a narrative of nationalism. The rural-urban split, the settled-refugee dichotomy, and the Muslim-Christian differentiation all confound integral social cohesion. Such a political tapestry, barely holding together despite decades of trying, baffles national unity, complicating the viability of any Palestinian state project becoming sturdy or stable.

 

These divisions have become further concretized by geopolitical partition. In 2007, Hamas seized control of Gaza after Israel’s disengagement-withdrawal from the strip two years earlier and the Islamists’ electoral victory over Fatah in 2006. The 40-kilometer geographic separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, alongside the ideological and political enmity between Fatah-PA and Hamas, is a powerful obstacle to generating Palestinian unity. The conventional two-state proposal is a misnomer inasmuch as Gaza already constitutes a Palestinian “statelet,” so that another Palestinian state based in the West Bank would actualize a three-state solution. The fathers of the Oslo accords could not imagine in their wildest dream such a bizarre turn of events.

 

Lastly, an ethic of extremism has been embedded in the culture of Palestinian politics for the last one hundred years, beginning with Hajj Amin Husseini (1897-1974) and continuing through the tenure of Yasser Arafat (1929-2004), with a slew of other noteworthy firebrands such as Izz al-Din al-Qassam (1882-1935) and Ahmad Yassin (1937-2004) throwing fuel on the blaze in between. Five days before the Oslo signing, Arafat told an Israeli journalist that one day there would be “a united state in which Israelis and Palestinians will live together” (without Israel)[21] while in 1996, after Oslo, he forecast Israel’s collapse under the weight of an Arab return to the West Bank and Jerusalem, linked to psychological warfare that would convince the Israelis to emigrate.[22] The Arabs of Palestine have every reason to believe that the country is theirs alone because their leaders have been telling them that from the very beginnings of their own self-awareness as a people. For them, extremism is justified although this mental universe of self-delusion and fanaticism has not led them to a political victory.

 

Four Insurmountable Oslo Issues

 

Early in 1993, the Oslo negotiators concluded that a full and immediate resolution of the conflict was an impossible task, preferring instead to conceive of peace-making as a staged process rather than a single, decisive event. The major points of contention would be left to a later phase following the initial and practical launching of the accord. In the final status negotiations, peace would be achieved when the outstanding issues could be settled to the satisfaction of the Israelis and Palestinians alike.[23]

 

The religious-cum-political issue of the holy city of Jerusalem represented perhaps the most intractable problem to be resolved. Despite the Jewish people’s millennial connections to Zion, Israel’s June 1967 decision to apply its law and administration over the entire united city as its capital was rejected by the Palestinians and their abettors in the international community. At Camp David in July 2000, contorted and repeated efforts were made to formulate an agreement that would accord Palestinians sovereignty over the Arab-inhabited peripheral areas of Jerusalem, jurisdiction over the inner neighborhoods, and Palestinian governance over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City. In these plans, the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, would be handed over to a Palestinian administration that claimed it as the al-Haram al-Sharif (sacred precinct). Prime Minister Barak’s negotiating position, although it seemed to waver over the summit days, demanded Israeli sovereignty over West Jerusalem and the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods around the city but also over the inner Arab-inhabited Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi Joz. He firmly rejected Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount while Arafat apparently called for Palestinian sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.[24] In the end, Arafat spurned the deal, and the world will never know if further Israeli concessions, like recognizing absolute Muslim control and Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif, would have perhaps elicited Arafat’s agreement. Palestinian militancy regarding Jerusalem has continued over the years, leading to assaults upon Jews in the Old City area and stoning attacks on the Temple Mount. These attacks have occurred despite an Israeli policy to limit and sometimes prohibit Jewish prayer on the mount. Self-imposed Israeli renunciation of Jewish religious rights merges with and perhaps evokes Palestinian violence.

 

An even greater sticking point is the final status of the so-called Palestinian refugees. The unyielding Palestinian demand that the “right of return” be acknowledged and implemented is a call for Palestinian “justice” that carries within it the seed for Israel’s destruction. The “right of return” has become sacred dogma for Palestinians. Perhaps equally fixed is the Israeli rejection of the idea as suicidal for the Jewish state. A growing constituency of Arabs in Israel echoes the “return” theme.[25]

 

This Palestinian position, sustained by a contrived memory of forced dispossession and nurtured by political rigidity, has been met with an equally steadfast Israeli rejection although Barak was willing to concede a symbolic number of returning refugees in July 2000.[26] The refugee issue proves clearly that the Palestinian intent is to Arabize Israel and obliterate the Zionist enterprise. These are not the building blocks for the two-state solution envisaged by the Oslo negotiators.

 

Of late, the issue of the “settlements”—Jewish communities—has become the international community’s bête noire. The Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, numbering more than 120 localities with more than 330,000 people, may have begun in part as a perceived security imperative, but early on, it also expressed the immutable right of the Jewish people to live in and control the Land of Israel west of the Jordan River. For the Palestinians however, these communities were concrete evidence of Zionist expansionism and colonial occupation. The Palestinian position has become monolithic, demanding a dismantling of all Israeli communities and the expulsion of all their residents.

 

Meanwhile, Israeli governments forged a public consensus around those population blocks to be retained in any future agreement, a position endorsed by President Bush in 2004.[27] The Palestinian position hardened further in 2010 when Abbas, encouraged by President Obama, demanded a complete cessation of all construction activity, not only in the territories but also in post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo, which are on the eastern side of the city.[28] In short, the settlement issue brought the sides to political wrangling that froze the already-stalled Oslo process. A Judenrein West Bank, recalling what Menachem Begin did in expelling Jews when handing over the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982, and what Ariel Sharon similarly did in the Gaza Strip in 2005, was not the future that many Israelis had in mind when imagining the contours of peace.

 

The fourth intractable issue is one of borders. A final political map delineating the outline of a Palestinian state is tied to the Arab demand that Israel withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines. No Israeli government ever agreed to such a total retreat, which runs counter to U.N. resolution 242, which established the land for peace formula in the wake of the 1967 war: Barak wavered between 88-93 percent of the West Barak while Sharon and Netanyahu considered withdrawal from perhaps 50 percent of the area.[29] Military control of the Jordan Valley remains of particular importance for Israel to prevent both future smuggling of weapons and terrorists through Jordan into Palestine and to constitute a defensive line for Israel’s eastern front facing the Arab states across the river. Israel would have to evacuate 100,000 residents in the unlikely event that final borders would exclude many smaller Jewish localities dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria beyond the larger population centers such as Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, and the Etzion block.[30] This grim scenario alone would be sufficiently critical to hamper an agreement, considering the national trauma that resulted from the expulsion of 8,000 Gush Katif residents from Gaza in August 2005. This is not the kind of public atmosphere that would generate Israeli support, let alone enthusiasm, for any peace based on the Oslo parameters.

 

Conclusion

 

While Israelis consistently poll in support of a Palestinian state, the reasons for abandoning the idea have multiplied over time. Palestinian nationalism with its malignant and rogue features remains committed to destroying Zionism. The Fatah media and school curricula indoctrinate the Palestinian people and youth to disparage Jews as “evil” and Israel as a “cancer.”[31] Palestinian military forces train for the possibility of future fighting with Israeli military forces,[32] and Palestinian diplomacy, like the recent failed attempt to get the U.N. to grant it unconditional statehood, remains the stuff of wily bazaar bargaining in a diplomatic war of attrition. It is clear that the Palestinian public has never really accepted the two-state solution as a final end to the conflict.[33] This was given vivid expression in the last interview by the late Faisal Husseini, the prominent PLO leader, who infamously compared the Oslo process to a Trojan horse that would bring about Israel’s demise.[34] More recently, Abbas Zaki, Fatah Central Committee member, confessed that “it’s not acceptable to say we want to wipe Israel out … It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.”[35]

 

Obstacles also exist in addressing the practical aspects and nitty-gritty details of a Palestinian state centered in the West Bank. Israel’s security-related conditions regarding demilitarization and control of airspace and military monitoring stations on West Bank hilltops meet with unwavering Palestinian opposition on all counts.[36] A state of Palestine, founded in a moment of desperation and born in bitter acrimony, will lack the space to absorb millions of refugees should the expatriate Palestinian community opt for emigration and be fated for economic impoverishment (discounting the billions of dollars donated to the PA by the international community since 1994). Based on everything a dispassionate observer can testify to since the 1994 establishment of the Palestinian Authority, this Palestinian state, awkwardly sandwiched between Israel and Jordan, has all the likelihood of becoming a failed state—fragile, mismanaged, tending to disorder and civil war.[37]

 

As such, the two-state paradigm trumpeted by Oslo has been invalidated with the growth of the magnitude of dissonance. There is just no sound political basis for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. All basic final status issues escape resolution. Yet, there has never been an admission of error, let alone an apology by Peres or Bill Clinton, Bush, Sharon, Olmert, Obama, or Netanyahu in their advocacy of a two-state solution. Speaking of the predominant role played by Peres in the Oslo saga, the contemporary grand master of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger, once remarked that Peres had “the trait of French academics who tend to believe that the formulation of an idea is equivalent to its realization.”[38] The same could be said of all those well-intentioned diplomats and politicians who have followed in Peres’s footsteps. Small wonder that, notwithstanding the plan’s abysmal failure and likely calamitous future, the intellectual brainwashing exercised by the Oslo paradigm has not yet loosened its grip over people’s minds as evidenced most recently by John Kerry’s heroic, but ultimately doomed, attempt to resuscitate the “peace process.”[39]

 

Mordechai Nisan is a retired lecturer in Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at other academic institutions in Israel. His most recent book is Only Israel West of the River (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform).

 

[1] The Peel commission recommended the incorporation of the Arab part of western Palestine into Transjordan, ruled by Emir Abdullah ibn Hussein, rather than its constitution as an independent state.
[2] For example, Richard J. Ward, Don Peretz, and Evan M. Wilson, The Palestine State: A Rational Approach (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977); Mark A. Heller, A Palestinian State: The Implications for Israel (Cambridge.: Harvard University Press, 1983).
[3] Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2nd ed. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009), pp. 535-8, 711-29.
[4] Yediot Aharonot (Tel Aviv), July 26, 1974.
[5] Yitzhak Rabin, Pinkas Sherut, vol. II (Tel Aviv: Ma’ariv, 1979), p. 583.
[6] Ma’ariv (Tel Aviv), Feb. 10, 1989.
[7] David Makovsky, Making Peace with the PLO: The Rabin Government’s Road to the Oslo Accord (Washington and Boulder: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Westview Press, 1996), p. 123.
[8] Yossi Beilin, “Oslo Kvar Betocheinu,” Yisrael Hayom (Tel Aviv), July 27, 2011.
[9] Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), p. 800.
[10] “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Annapolis and After,” Middle East Briefing, no. 22, International Crisis Group, Jerusalem/Washington/Brussels, Nov. 20, 2007.
[11] Barack Obama, remarks on the Middle East and North Africa, State Department, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2011.
[12] Al-Jazeera TV (Doha), May 19, 2011.
[13] “The Khartoum Resolutions,” Sept. 1, 1967, The Jewish Virtual Library.
[14] Ross, The Missing Peace, p. 782.
[15] The Jerusalem Post, May 19, 2011.
[16] “My Country Palestine,” Fatah PA TV, July 13, 2011, in MEMRI Bulletin, Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington, D.C., July 26, 2011; YNet News (Tel Aviv), Aug. 28, 2011.
[17]Hamas Covenant 1988,” Yale Law School Avalon Project, accessed Oct. 29, 2013.
[18] Al-Hayat al-Jadida (Ramallah), May 4, 2013, quoted by Palestinian Media Watch, Jerusalem.
[19] Al-Mayadeen TV (Beirut), in Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin, May 8, 2013.
[20] Israel Hayom, Aug. 1, 2013.
[21] Efraim Karsh, Arafat’s War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest (New York: Grove Press, 2003), pp. 59-60; idem, “Arafat Lives,” Commentary, Jan. 2005.
[22] The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 23, 1996; Yedidya Atlas, “Stockholm Revisited,” Israel radio 7, May 10, 1996.
[23] Makovsky, Making Peace with the PLO, chap. 2-3.
[24] Shlomo Ben-Ami, Hazit Le’lo O’ref: Masa el Gvulot Tahalich Hashalom (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot, 2004), pp. 165-95; Ross, The Missing Peace, pp. 686-7.
[25] L. Barkan, “Israeli Arab Leadership Jockeys for Central Role in Palestinian Leadership,” Middle East Media Research Institute, Inquiry & Analysis Series Report, no.721, Aug. 11, 2011.
[26] Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?” Survival, Autumn 2001, pp. 31-45.
[27] The Washington Post, Apr. 15, 2004.
[28] YNet News, Nov. 10, 2010.
[29] Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), Nov. 4, 2006; The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), Feb. 19, 2013; “Peace Negotiations in Name Only,” DebkaFile (Jerusalem), Sept. 23, 2013.
[30] Giora Island, “The Future of the Two-State Solution,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Feb. 8, 17, 2009.
[31] Al-Aqsa TV (Gaza), July 13, 2008;Religious War,” Palestinian Media Watch, Jerusalem, July 3, 2013.
[32] Gal Luft, “The Palestinian Security Forces: Capabilities and Effects on the Arab-Israeli Military Balance,” Ariel Center for Policy Research, Shaarei Tikva, Oct. 2001; CNS News, July 7, 2008.
[33] Benny Morris, “Eliminating Israel,” The National Interest, July 19, 2011.
[34] Al-Arabi (Cairo), June 6, 2001.
[35] The Blaze (New York and Dallas), Oct. 3, 2011.
[36] Dore Gold, “Banging Square Pegs into Round Holes,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Dec. 2008.
[37] Charles W. Kegley, Jr., and Eugene R. Wittkopf, World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 7th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), p. 372.
[38] Henry Kissinger, Years of Renewal (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), p. 376.
[39] The New York Times, July 19, 2013.

 

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Middle East

Saudi engagement in Iraq: The exception that confirms the rule?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Stepped up Saudi efforts to forge close diplomatic, economic and cultural ties to Shia-majority Iraq in a bid to counter significant Iranian influence in the country appear to be paying off. The Saudi initiative demonstrates the kingdom’s ability to engage rather than exclusively pursue a muscular, assertive and confrontational policy towards the Islamic republic and its perceived allies. It raises the question whether it is a one-off or could become a model for Saudi policy elsewhere in the region.

The kingdom’s recent, far more sophisticated approach to Iraq is testimony to the fact that its multi-billion dollar, decades-long support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism that at times involved funding of both violent and non-violent militants had failed in Iraq. It constitutes recognition that Saudi Arabia’s absence effectively gave Iran a free reign.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Iraqi charm offensive amounts to a far more concerted and successful effort than attempts more than a decade ago by then Saudi King Abdullah to reach out to Iraqi Shiite leaders, including firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr and involving the organization of a meeting in Mecca between Sunni and Shia Iraqi religious leaders. King Abdullah’s efforts did not at the time involve a crackdown on funding by Saudi sources of a devastating Sunni Muslim insurgency.

King Abdullah’s initiative notwithstanding, Saudi policy towards Iraq for more than a decade since Iraq’s Shiite majority emerged from the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni Muslim rule as a result of the 2003 US invasion was one of non-engagement, sectarianism, and support of the country’s Sunni minority.

It took the kingdom 11 years to open its first embassy in post-Saddam Iraq, the kingdom’s first diplomatic presence in the country since it broke off diplomatic relations in 1990 because of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Even then, relations got off to a rocky start with Iraq demanding the replacement of the kingdom’s first ambassador, Thamer al-Sabhan, after he publicly criticised Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs and the alleged persecution of Iraqi Sunni Muslims.

The emergence in 2014 of Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who succeeded Nuri al-Maliki, seen by the Saudis as an Iranian pawn, coupled with the rise of Prince Mohammed and the Saudi charm offensive in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic state has produced a remarkable turnaround that holds out the prospect of the kingdom becoming an influential player in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Iraq.

Beyond the opening of the embassy, Saudi Arabia is slated to open a consulate in Basra as well as in Najaf, widely seen as Shia Islam’s third most holy city that rivals Iran’s Qom as a centre of Shiite learning. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Prince Mohammed may visit Najaf after Iraqi elections scheduled for May 12.

The two countries have reopened their Arar Border Crossing that was closed for 27 years and restored commercial air traffic for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. More than 60 Saudi companies participated earlier this year in the Baghdad International Fair.

A Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council, inaugurated last year aims to strengthen security ties as well as economic and cultural relations envisions student and cultural exchanges and Saudi investment in oil and gas, trade, transport, education, light industry, and agriculture. Saudi Arabia pledged $1.5 billion for Iraqi reconstruction at a donors’ conference in Kuwait in February.

Saudi Arabia garnered substantial brownie points in February by playing its first soccer match in Iraq in almost three decades, boosting Iraqi efforts to persuade world soccer body FIFA to lift its ban on Iraqi hosting of international matches. The kingdom subsequently promised to build a 100,000-seat football stadium in Baghdad.

In shifting gears in Iraq, Prince Mohammed appears to have broken with decades of Saudi efforts to primarily confront Iran in proxy and covert wars. It remains, however, unclear to what degree Prince Mohammed’s policy shift in Iraq is an indication of a broader move away from sectarianism and support for ultra-conservative militants and towards engagement.

The record is mixed. Saudi Shiite activists see little positive change and, if anything, assert that repression in their heartland in the kingdom’s Eastern Province has increased since Prince Mohammed’s rise.

“Bin Salman is already acting like he’s the king of Saudi Arabia. He keeps telling the West that he will reform Islam, but he keeps raiding the homes of Shia and stripping us of any political rights,” one activist said.

Nonetheless, a Saudi-funded Bangladeshi plan to build moderate mosques to counter militancy, the kingdom’s relinquishing of control of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, and the newly found propagation of tolerance and inter-faith dialogue by the government-controlled World Muslim League that for decades funded ultra-conservatism globally would suggest that Saudi money may be invested in attempting to curb the impact of the kingdom’s decades-long support of ultra-conservatism.

There are, however, also indications that Prince Mohammed is not averse to funding militants when it suits his geopolitical purpose. Saudi funds have flowed since his rise in 2015 to militant religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan at a time that the kingdom was drafting plans to destabilize Iran by exploiting grievances and stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, including the Baloch. Those plans have not left the drawing board and may never do so, but ultra-conservative militants figure prominently in them.

Nevertheless, the magnitude of the shifting of gears in Saudi policy towards Iraq as well as other steps that Prince Mohammed has taken to curb, redirect, and reduce, if not halt, Saudi support for militant ultra-conservatism is highlighted by the conclusions of a 2002 study of funding of political violence conducted by the New York-based Council of Foreign Relations.

Coming in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when Saudi funding and counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States was put under the magnifying glass, the study suggested that the kingdom’s global support for ultra-conservatism was woven into its fabric.

“It may well be the case that if Saudi Arabia…were to move quickly to share sensitive financial information with the United States, regulate or close down Islamic banks, incarcerate prominent Saudi citizens or surrender them to international authorities, audit Islamic charities, and investigate the hawala system—just a few of the steps that nation would have to take—it would be putting its current system of governance at significant political risk,” the study warned.

In many ways, Saudi support for the Iraqi insurgency was a textbook example of the decades-long, $100 billion Saudi campaign to confront Iran globally by promoting ultra-conservatism and sectarianism and in a minority of countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq and Syria – funding violence.

Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi scholar with close ties to the government, said Saudi options at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency included supplying the insurgents with the same type of funding, arms and logistical support that Iran was giving to Shiite armed groups. Another option, he said, was to create new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.

“Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks — it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse,” Mr. Obaid said in 2006.

US and Iraqi officials at the time suspected Saudi Arabia of covertly supporting sectarian Sunni jihadist insurgents opposed to the US military presence in the country and the rise of a Shia-dominated government. While there was no evidence of government assistance, the lines between the actions of private citizens and authorities were and remain often blurred in the kingdom.

An Iraq Study Group report in 2006 at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency concluded that “funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.”

Without identifying them, Iraqi officials asserted that funds were also flowing from Saudi charities that often operated as governmental non-government organizations. They said some of the funds had been channelled through Saudi clerics who decided who the beneficiary would be.

Truck drivers at the time described transporting boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia that were destined for insurgents. The transports frequently coincided with pilgrimages to Mecca.

“They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq. I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don’t take it with me, they will kill me,” one driver said. He said he was instructed to hide the money from authorities at the Iraqi border.

One official said $25 million was sent by a Saudi religious scholar to a senior Iraqi Sunni cleric who bought Russian Strela shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles on the black market in Romania.

Baath Party loyalists claimed at the time that a US Air Force F-16 jet that crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting insurgents in Anbar province had been downed by a Strela. The US military denied the claim.

“We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans),” a spokesman for the party, said.

The Iraqi cleric involved in the purchase of the missiles was suspected to be Sheikh Harith Sulaiman al-Dhari, a tribal chieftain dubbed “the Spiritual Leader of the Iraqi Resistance” with a lineage of opposition to foreign rule dating back to the killing in 1920 of a British colonel by his father and grandfather. Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Al-Dhari in late 2006, who has since passed away, on charges of inciting sectarian violence after he visited Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s approach to Iraq has come a long way since the days of the insurgency. The question is whether the kingdom will draw a lesson from its success in the way it manages its regional rivalry with Iran. So far, there is little indication that Iraq is more than the exception that confirms the rule.

Said political analyst Hussein Ibish in a just published study of Saudi-Iraqi relations: “Iraq is the only major regional battleground at present in which Saudi Arabia is relying almost entirely on carrots rather than sticks. Yet, arguably, more has been accomplished by Riyadh over the past year in Iraq than, for example, in either Yemen or Lebanon… Saudi Arabia’s outreach in Iraq, particularly in 2017, belies the stereotype of a rash, reckless, and uncontrolled new major regional actor, showing instead that Saudi Arabia can be deft and delicate when it wants to. That’s an important lesson for the rest of the world, but also for Saudi Arabia itself, to ponder.”

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Middle East

Syria’s future

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Many sources think that the most significant clashes in Syria are likely to end late this year.

Probably the small clashes between the various ethnic groups and hence among their external points of reference  will not end yet. The bulk of armed actions, however, will certainly finish since now the areas of influence are stabilized.

The first fact that stands out is that, despite everything, Bashar al-Assad’s forces have won.

All the international actors operating on the ground -be they friends or foes – have no difficulty in recognizing it.

Certainly neither Assad nor Russia alone have the strength to rebuild the country, but Western countries – especially those that have participated in the fight against Assad – and the other less involved countries plan to participate in the reconstruction process, with a view to influencing Syria, although peacefully this time.

The military start of Assad’s victory was the Northwest campaign of the Syrian Arab Forces from October 2017 to February 2018.

Operations against what the United States calls “rebels” -namely, in that case, Isis and Tahrir al-Sham – focused at that time on the intersection between the provinces of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo.

It is extremely difficult for a regular army to conduct operations against guerrilla organizations, but Assad’ Syrian Arab Army has succeeded to do so.

The subsequent destruction of Isis-Daesh pockets south of Damascus, in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib was decisive to later establish stable and undisputed hegemony of the Syrian forces throughout the Syrian territory – and above all in traditionally Sunni areas.

There is also the issue of Al-Rastan, the ancient town of Arethusa on the Orontes river, located on the side of the bridge uniting Hama and Homs. From the beginning of hostilities, it has been a basis for the jihadism of the so-called “rebels”.

Another military problem is the opening of the bridge and the commercial passage on the border between Syria and the Lebanon, namely Al-Nasib, which is essential for Syria’s trade with Jordan and the Gulf countries.

Conquering the Al-Nasib pass means conquering also the road between Deraa and Damascus, as well as the Syrian side of the Djebel Druze.

Between the Deraa-Damascus road and the Golan, the situation is still largely frozen thanks to the agreement reached by the Russian Federation with the United States and Israel, in which the former guaranteed to the Jewish State that Iran and Hezb’ollah would not get close – up to the limit of 25 miles (40 kilometers) – to the old ceasefire line established in 1973.

Moreover, even though the representatives of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, commonly known as Rojava, were never accepted in the negotiations between the parties in conflict, the Kurds – already abandoned by the United States – know that the territories they freed from Isis-Daesh will be returned precisely to the Sunni Arabs, but in exchange for the autonomy of the traditionally Kurdish districts of Afrin, Kobane and Qamishli.

Furthermore, since the Sochi Conference on the Congress of Syrian National Dialogue held at the end of January 2018, Russia has convinced the 1,500 participants from the various parts of Syria to accept the fact that every ethnic and religious area and every group of Syrian society must be respected and protected by the new Constitution. A break with the old Ba’athist and centralist tradition of the Syrian regime, but without reaching the Lebanese paradox, i.e. permanent civil war.

The political process envisaged by Russia is a process in which the Westerners still present in the Syrian territory had no say in the matter.

Nor will they have it in the future.

The going will be really tough when the time of reconstruction comes.

Reconstruction is the most important future lever for external influence on the long-suffering Syrian Arab Republic, where conflict has been going on for seven years.

The World Bank estimates the cost of reconstruction at  250 billion dollars.

Other less optimistic, but more realistic estimates point to a cost for Syrian national reconstruction up to 400 and even 600 billion US dollars.

Syria does not even dream of having all these capital resources, which even the Russian Federation cannot deploy on its own.

Six years after the outbreak of the conflict, in 2011, the great diaspora of Syrian businessmen met in Germany in late February 2017.

Hence the creation of the Syrian International Business Association (SIBA).

With specific reference to the great Syrian reconstruction, the Russian, Iranian and Chinese governments are already active and have already secured the largest contracts in the oil and gas, minerals, telecommunications, real estate and electricity sectors.

As far as we know, there is no similar investment by Western countries, which will still leave the economic power they planned to acquire in the hands of other countries, after having caused the ill-advised but failed “Arab Spring” in Syria.

Also the BRICS and countries such as the Lebanon, Armenia, Belarus and Serbia invest in Syria, or at least in the regions where peace has been restored and the “Caliphate” does no longer exist.

Usually collaboration takes place through the purchase of pre-existing companies in Syria – something which now  happens every day- or through bilateral collaborations with Syrian companies.

With specific reference to regulations, Syria is continuously changing the rules regarding the structure of operating companies, work permits, imports and currency  transfers.

State hegemony, in the old Ba’athist tradition – the old Syrian (but also Egyptian) national Socialism which, however, adapts itself to the structure of current markets.

It is estimated that Syrian companies can already provide 50% of the 300 billion US dollars estimated by the World Bank as cost for Syria’s reconstruction.

An estimate that many still think to be rather optimistic.

Nevertheless, it will take at least thirty years to bring Syrian back to the conditions in which it was before  hostilities began.

With rare effrontery and temerity, the United States and the European Union are already putting pressure on the Syrian government to be granted economic and political concessions, but Assad has no intention of giving room to its old enemies.

In any case, the Syrian reconstruction will need at least 30 million tons of goods per year from sea lines, while the Latakia and Tartus airports can – at most – allow loads of 15 million tons/year.

From this viewpoint, the Lebanon is organizing a Special Economic Zone around the port of Tripoli, already adapted by China to the international transport of vast flows of goods in cargoes and containers.

Obviously the companies going to work in Syria must also take the physical safety of their workers and their offices into account, as well as the need to have constant, careful and close relations with local authorities.

Furthermore, the US sanction regime also favours President Trump’s plan to topple the Syrian regime through economic pressure, which would make also the work of European companies in Syria very difficult or even impossible.

However what is the need for destroying Syria economically? For pure sadism? The current US foreign policy is not unpredictable, it is sometimes crazy.

The US sanctions, however, concern the new investment of US citizens in Syria; the re-exporting or exporting of goods and services to Syria; the importing of Syrian oil or gas into the United States;the transactions of Syrian goods and services carried out by non-US citizens also involving a US citizen.

Other sanctions will soon be imposed by President Trump on the Russian Federation due to its “tolerance” for the increasingly alleged factories of nerve gas and materials.

Obviously the fact that the Syrian regime is the winner of military confrontation, along with Russia and Iran, is now a certainty.

Nevertheless, loyalist Syrians are still badly supplied, both at military and civilian levels, and they are severely dependent on external aid, which is decisive also for their survival and for preserving their strategic and military superiority.

Without Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad would have collapsed within two months since the beginning of the  “Syrian spring”, when the Muslim Brotherhood organized by the United States was demonstrating in the streets violently.

Hence, in the current stability of the Syrian regime, nothing must be taken for granted: the end or decrease of Russian support and the fast return back home of the Iranian Pasdaran and Afghan Shiites organized by Iran would bring Assad’s military and civilian power back to the 2011 level.

Nevertheless Syria does no longer exist as a Soviet-style centralized State.

In Assad-led Syria the centralized economy does no longer exist, for the excellent reason that four primary military powers operate in the country, namely Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States.

They collectively control all the Syrian resources on which the Syrian national government no longer has any power.

As can be easily imagined, the United States holds oil reserves by means of their occupation – through the Kurds – of Raqqa and the Northeastern region.

Turkey holds a nominally Syrian region of approximately 2,400 square kilometers between Aleppo and Idlib, in the area of the “Euphrates Shield” operations.

Russia and Iran already hold the majority of reconstruction contracts, while they will acquire most of the public sector to repay the military expenses they incurred to keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime in power.

Hence if no agreements are reached between Russia and the United States, each area of influence will have different reconstruction and development plans.

As early as the 1945-1958 period, Syria had been the  target of expansionist designs that were anyway bound to fragment its territory.

The two Hashemite Kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan thought they could together take control of the whole Syrian State,  while their eternal rivals, namely the Saudi-Egyptian axis, thwarted their designs.

Great Britain and France, still powerful in Syria, operated through their Arab points of reference.

CIA collaborated with the Syrian dictator, Husni Zaim.

Zaim was of Kurdish origin and had taken power in 1949. He had organized a regime not disliked by the Ba’ath Party – a Westernizing and vaguely “Socialist” dictatorship.

After Husni Zaim’s fall, Syria was divided as usual: the collective leadership was held by the Sunni urban elite who had fought harshly against France.

Nevertheless, the unity of the nation – which was decisive for the Sunnis themselves – found it hard to bring together the Alawites, the Druze, the Shiites and the thousands of  religious and ethnic factions that characterized Syria at that time as in current times.

The nationalist union between Syria and Egypt created in 1958 and soon undermined by Syria’s defection in 1961, experienced its Ba’athist-nationalist coup in 1963, with a military take-over.

Hafez El Assad – the father of the current Syrian leader, who ruled Syria from 1963 to 2000, the year of his death – immediately emerged among the military.

Long-term instability, medium-term political stability. That is Syria, from the end of the French domination to current times.

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Middle East

How the Guardian newspaper fulfills George Orwell’s prediction of ‘Newspeak’

Eric Zuesse

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On Sunday April 15th, Britain’s Guardian bannered “OPCW inspectors set to investigate site of Douma chemical attack” and pretended that there was no question that a chemical attack in Douma Syria on April 7th had actually occurred, and the article then went further along that same propaganda-line, to accuse Syria’s Government of having perpetrated it. This ‘news’ story opened [and clarificatory comments from me will added in brackets]:

UN chemical weapons investigators were set on Sunday to begin examining the scene of a chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, which had prompted the joint US, French and British strikes against military installations and chemical weapons facilities near the capital, Damascus.

The arrival of the delegation from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came as the Syrian military announced that it had “purified” [no source provided, but this — from 7 March 2018 — is the only source that existed prior to the April 14th missiles-invasion of Syria, and its meaning is very different: the region of eastern Ghouta, of which Douma is a part, after a two-month campaign that killed nearly 2,000 civilians [no source provided as regards either the number, or that all of them were ‘civilians’ and that none of them were jihadists or “terrorists”], following years of siege.

The propaganda-article continued directly: “Units of our brave armed forces, and auxiliary and allied forces, completed the purification of eastern Ghouta, including all its towns and villages, of armed terrorist organisations,” the general command statement said.

No source was provided for that, but this sentence is a sly mind-manipulation, because here is what the Syrian Government’s General Command had actually said: “Statement of the Army General Command declaring Eastern Ghouta clear of terrorism” as headlined by the Syrian Government itself.

In other words: the Guardian’s ‘journalist’ had substituted the word “clear” by the word “purify” and did this after having already asserted but not documented, that the Government had just completed “a two-month campaign that killed nearly 2,000 civilians.” When the Syrian Government announces that an area has been “cleared of terrorists (or of terrorism),” the U.S.-allied propagandist uses the word “purify,” such as “purified the region of eastern Ghouta” or “the purification of eastern Ghouta, including all its towns and villages, of armed terrorist organisations.” But by the time that the reader gets there to “purification … of armed terrorist organisations,” the reader has already been doctrinated to believe that Syria’s Government is trying to “purify” land, or perpetrate some type of ethnic-cleansing. That’s professional propaganda-writing; it is not professional journalism.

Later, the article asserts that, “The OPCW mission will arrive in Douma eight days after the chemical attack, and days after the area fell to the control of Russian military and Syrian government forces. That delay, along with the possibility of the tampering of evidence by the forces accused of perpetrating the attack, raises doubts about what the OPCW’s inspectors might be able to discover.” However, a fierce debate is being waged over whether this was not any real “chemical attack” but instead a staged event by the jihadists in order to draw Trump back into invading Syria. In other words: any journalistic reference yet, at this time, to the event as “the chemical attack” instead of as “the alleged chemical attack” is garbage, just as, prior to the guilty-verdict in a murder trial, no journalistic reference may legitimately be made to the defendant as “the murderer,” instead of as “the defendant.” That is lynch-mob ‘journalism’, which Joseph Goebbels championed.

The Joseph-Goebbels-following ‘journalist’ has thus opened by implying that the Russia-allied Syrian Government is trying to crush a democratic revolution, instead of the truth, that the U.S.-allied Governments are trying to overthrow and replace the Russia-allied Syrian Government. It’s a big difference, between the lie, and the truth.

Another story in the April 15th Guardian was “Pressure grows on Russia to stop protecting Assad as US, UK and France press for inquiry into chemical weapons stockpiles” and this one pretended that the issue is for “Russia to stop protecting Assad,” who is the democratically elected and popular President of Syria, and not to stop the invasion of Syria since 2011 by U.S. and Saudi backed foreign jihadists to overthrow him. Furthermore, as regards “press for inquiry into chemical weapons stockpiles,” the real and urgent issue right now is to allow the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into Douma to hold an independent and authoritative investigation into the evidence there. Russia pressed for it at the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. and its allies blocked it there. But the OPCW went anyway — even after the U.S.-allied invasion on April 14th — and this courageous resistance by them against the U.S. dictatorship can only be considered heroic. Now that they are there, the remaining jihadists in Douma are firing shots at them to drive them away.

That type of ‘news’-reporting is virtually universal in The West, among the U.S. and its allied governments, which refer to themselves as ‘democracies’ and refer to any Government that they wish to overthrow and replace by their own selected dictator, as ‘dictatorships’, such as these regimes had referred to Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, Syria forever, and Ukraine in 2014. It’s Newspeak.

first published at strategic-culture.org

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