Let us elaborate this by relating to misconceptions in Western public opinion concerning the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first misconception is the number of fatalities. Since WWII, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the national conflict with the lowest number of victims, and at the same time, with the world’s highest number of publications in the academia and attention in the media. Palestinians dead by Israel will cause endless headlines and articles all over the world, but Palestinian massacre and murder by other Palestinians will receive only few lines. That is also the case with the Arab states.
Moreover, if entire villages are destroyed in Sudan and a genocidal apparatus occur there, or when many Arab states are set on fire with huge massacre and destruction as in the last five years of “Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter” (mistakenly called “Arab Spring”) there will be only moderate attention if any on TV. The amount of attention the so-called Palestinians get from the international media and world public opinion is amazingly huge and at the same time baseless compare to other world situations.
There is another and more dramatic countdown – the total amount of those killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1882 up to 2006 are 75,000. 85% of them are from Arab states, and almost half of them Egyptians. Only 9000 were Palestinians killed by Israel, most of them during the two Intifadas (1800 and 3,700). Not millions. Not hundreds of thousands, and not tens of thousands.
Compare this to the 20 to 30 thousands Palestinians killed by king Hussein of Jordan in one month, in September 1970; or to the 8000 Palestinians killed by the Syrian President, Asad, in Lebanon in November-December 1983; or to the 6000 Palestinians killed by their own brothers in the “Arab Revolt” of 1936 to 1939; or to the hundreds killed only the few months in Gaza by the war between Hamas and Fath, in 2007; or to the destruction of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, during the war in 2014.
Compare this to the millions killed in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, or the total destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen as states and societies during the last five years of the Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter.
Compare the situation of the millions of Arab refugees, running from their ruined cities and villages, being under real annihilation, to the situation of the so-called “Palestinian refugees.”
Compare the billions of dollars the Palestinians get, for the rehabilitation of these refugees (and mostly goes to terrorism and corruption of their leadership), and what the Arab, only Arab, refugees get. They have nothing and get nothing. One group gets everything and the other group, much bigger in numbers, gets nothing.
Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians “refugees” get a monthly generous food parcel, education and social assistance, so that at least a billion of people around the world never dream to have and never get.
Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians who live in proportional social and economic prosperity to the standard of living of at least 80 other states around the world, including Arab states.
According to the UN data, one billion people around the world earn less than two dollars a day. The UN has coined the term the “Fourth World” relating to these peoples. One will not find even one Palestinian among them.
According to the UN data, 40% of world population drink polluted infected water, and thousands of children die every day only for that reason. One will not find even one Palestinian among them. They get fresh high quality water from Israel, who thanks to its sophisticated industry can export water from this desert area.
Indeed, the Palestinians get so much money and attention as compare to so many other countries and people around the world that it has become a disgrace to the world. They are the only people that gets more and more and they do not work for it.
The second misconception, a most important one, is related to the meaning of occupation. When Palestinians say ‘Israeli occupation,’ it is not the 1967 occupation, but the 1948 occupation, and it is not the 1967 borders and not the 1947 borders, but the entire territory of Israel. When they murder and massacre Israelis by inhuman terrorism, it is not because of the “occupation”, and not because of the “settlements”, but because Israel is a Jewish Zionist state living on that land, even one inch of this land.
The so-called “occupied territories” have no relevance to the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is just another problem in a large set of complex issues which firstly must be focused on the recognition of Israel as a state and as a nation. Let me elaborate this by quoting the formal Palestinian ideological attitude toward Israel, so as to expose what they mean by “occupation.”
In the Palestinian National Covenant of the PLO, one can find the following declarations as a political ideology:
Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinians assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 9). The liberation of Palestine means to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression, and aims at the elimination of Zionism from Palestine in its entirety (Article 15). The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 are entirely illegal (Article 19).
The Balfour Declaration , the Mandate for Palestine [1919 and 1920], and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of the Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history. Judaism, being only a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own. They are only citizens of the states to which they belong (Article 20).
The Palestinian people, expressing himself by the armed revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 21). The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace (Article 22). This Charter shall not be amended save by [vote of] a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National assembly of the PLO [taken] at a special session convened for that purpose (Article 33).
As for Hamas, in its Charter it declared clearly:
Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it… [Hamas] strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine (Article 6). The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1930’s, and it includes the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war and all Jihad operations… The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the and kill the Jews, and when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Muslims, O the servants of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him (Article 7).
The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to deny that. Palestine in its entirety belongs only to the Palestinians. This is the law governing the Islamic Shari’ah (article 11).
Nothing is more significant or deeper than Jihad against the Zionist enemy. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. Abusing any part of Palestine is tantamount to abuse part of the religion [which means death]. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad to eliminate the Zionist invasion. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors (Article 13). It is the utmost necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the Muslim nation (Article 15)… Jihad is the path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of all wishes…
This is the ideology. There is no mentioning of the occupation of 1967 borders or peace with Israel in any borders. Indeed, it has never been “the occupation of 1967” but Israeli legitimacy to exist as a Jewish Zionist state.
What about the operational level? The town of Sderot is not in the 1967 occupied territories, nor the town of Ashkelon or all the villages and Kibbutzim around Gaza. They are all in the 1948 Israeli territory, but they are shelled and bombed on a daily basis.
Israel has left Gaza to the last inch in August 2005, by its own decision; willingly. And what happened? Is there peace and tranquility around? The situation has worsened and exacerbated without any comparison to the past when Israel was in Gaza. Hamas has won over the Palestinian Authority, and there erupted three small wars over Gaza. Billions of dollars continue to pour to Gaza, and the result? All the evidence prove that a fourth small war is coming, and the Hamas government continues its aggression.
If the problem is 1967 borders, why do they continue bombing Israeli cities inside the 1948 border? If they are innocent in their demand to free only the 1967 occupied territories, why do they terrorize and shell the 1948 territories? If they want to liberate the 1967 territories, why do they use homicide bombers against Israeli citizens inside the 1948 borders? If the issue is 1967 borders, why do they dig tunnels into Israeli area to hit villages in the 1948 borders?
The clear proof is found in Gaza. Israel has totally retreated from Gaza, to the last soldier and settler to the last cm. there is no occupation in Gaza. And what happened? Hamas won the elections; Iranian officers, Hizballah personnel and al-Qaeda groups are already in Gaza, now the members of the Islamic Caliphate State.
Indeed, on June 20, 2007, Islamist websites posted a 13-minute video, titled: A message from Jaysh al-Islam to ‘Izz Al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, congratulating the establishment of Islamic Emirate (al-Khilafah al-Islamiyah) in Gaza. On June 25, 2007, al-Qaeda deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, calls on Hamas to enforce the Shari’ah in Gaza and to become the front-base of World Jihad. Muhammad Nazzal, a Hamas leader, has declared: if al-Qaeda wants to come to Palestine, they are welcome.
Domestically, there was chaos and anarchy in Gaza between the Palestinians groups themselves. They murdered and butchered each other; they killed injuries in the ambulances and in hospitals; they burn out mosques and shelled universities; they targeted women and children; and all these done openly and it was televised, without any reaction or even attention of world public opinion. One can find TV executions done by the Hamas terrorists against Fath terrorists in the streets. Had Israel done much less than these atrocities, the entire world would have erupted in rage against Israel. Moreover, had Israel given Abu-Mazen full support he would have not survive as the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas won in the so-called West Bank.
Indeed the problem is not, and it has never been the 1967 occupation. Moreover, the conclusion of “the 1967 occupation” will not end the conflict, perhaps, as the Gaza example teaches us, will exacerbate it.
Arab and Palestinian leaders continue to sell the fraudulent mantra that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the heart of the problem and the cause of hostility and violence in the Middle East,” but they know that this claim has not a grain of truth. The conflicts and foci of violence in the Middle East are many and sundry, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of them, and is definitely not the problematic one.
The Arab and Palestinian leadership rides on this wave, in order to hide the collective Arab shame over the lack of unity and the hostility among themselves, and in order to “threaten’ Western interests in the Middle East and to gain its support. The Middle East is almost ruined out of the last five years of atrocities and the disappearance of the state system. There are failed states in the Middle East, and Israel has nothing to do with it, but still has become in world public opinion as the scapegoat to these disasters.
The third misconception is that when the Palestinians declare the two-state solution, it also includes the implementing of “the right of return” of the Palestinian refugees inside the Israeli state. When Israel and the world refer to “the Jewish and Palestinian state solution,” the Palestinians declare instead “the two states solution.” The difference is huge and decisive. They do not mean a Jewish state beside a Palestinian one, but a Palestinian state beside a multi-national or all its citizen state, very soon to become another Palestinian state. Abu Mazen and all the Palestinian leadership clearly declare they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Then, on what terms we talk about?
Indeed, the Palestinian demands are as follows: first, the total Israeli retreat to the 1967 borders, and then to solve the refugee problem inside Israel in its 1967 borders, according to Saeb ‘Areqat and Abu Mazen himself, seven million Palestinians. This is not a peace solution, but a peace of the grave for the Jewish people. In the long run it means one big Palestinian state from the Sea to the River. It also means with high probability, the end of Jordan, being a part of historic Palestine, and Palestinians being 70% of its population.
Two states will disappear for the establishment of one Palestinian state that already exists de Facto: 94 percent of the Palestinians in western area of the Jordan live by their own governmental system and under a Palestinian rule.
The fourth misconception is the belief that Palestinian society is ready and willing for the historical compromise with Israel. Well, Habeas Corpus. Please, anyone who thinks he can, please do it; please, prove it is possible. Sadat came to Jerusalem. Please bring the Palestinians to take his model. Indeed, monitoring the Palestinian communications media; reading the total incitement in educational institutions; listening to the sermons in the Mosques; watching the leaders’ declarations and their political and social agenda; and listening to the anti-Semite speeches and declarations thundering in the streets – all these uncover an atrocious picture as to the nature of Palestinian hostility toward Israel.
Unfortunately, the result will be very highly disappointing to any optimistic person who has a good will and a political drive to bring calm to this area. Anyone will find out that it is very complex attempt to conclude peace with a society that has undergone such processes of socialization and indoctrination of hatred and animosity; that has poisoned its own youth with so highly venom of incitement. Before everything else, we must cut off the vicious circle of the deadly indoctrination to death and Shahadah, homicide bombings, among the Palestinians.
This is the reason why there are the Israeli road barriers. Yair Lapid, one of the Israeli leftist journalists and novelists, has addressed a British lecturer, after the UCU ban on the Israeli academia:
You are right. The most humanitarian act is to take off the security barriers. However, In that case I will die, and I really do not want to die. The only thing that interest me is that the bus my daughter takes to reach her target will not be exploded by a so-called freedom fighter. She only wants to live. Please, promise me this, and you will see all the barriers vanish. Promise me that the terrorists will not use innocent people – small kids and old ladies, or other means to pass over weaponry and bombs devices for murdering Jews in Israel, and you will not see security barriers and other barriers. Promise me to stop the vicious unprecedented phenomenon of the homicide bombers and you will not find barriers. All I ask is just you to understand that I do not want to die. And please don’t tell me that the problem is the occupation. Palestinian terrorism was perpetuated in the 1920’s and 1930’s, much before Israel was established. The occupation should be removed, but terrorism and homicide bombers must be stopped much before. I want to live. So is my family, and this is my utmost priority; and this is why the barriers are so important.
The fifth misconception is related to the religious variable when discussing tolerance. We can unfortunately conclude that in the Middle East, for the time being, religion is not a constructive factor to bringing peace and harmony. Let’s look at the balance sheet:
In Palestine. The Christian plight in Mandatory. Palestine represents the harsh situation and their persecution. From almost 18% of the overall population in 1948, they are now less than 3%, and countdown continues. In 1948, the Bethlehem area was 87% Christian. In 1990, it became 60%, and in 2005 it is less than 15%; and todat only few percent. Joseph Farah, a Christian Arab details: They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being systematically persecuted. This is a massive display of ethnic cleansing and population movement which is covered up by the international media. But the worst is that the perpetrators of these crimes successfully blame Israel for committing them.
In Sudan. There were three waves of genocide onslaught against the black Christians of the south in which millions have massacred and annihilated. The third one, since 1983, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have died from war crimes, and about 2 million have become refugees. Sudan’s genocidal campaign of massacre, torture, rape and starvation is most significant in the world. Sudanese now massacre black Muslims by hundreds of thousands in Darfur, creating 2.5 million new refugees, only because they are black Muslims and not Arabs. This is one of the greatest holocaust to a people since World War II, second only to the Jews and the Armenians.
The man who has uncovered the hideous atrocious massacre in Darfur, is brian Steidel, a volunteer in the Peace Force. One can watch his dreadful film “the Devil on the horseback.” It is worth mentioning that Sudan is an honorable member in the UN Human Rights Committee and other UN committees, and presiding some of them. However, compare this genocide massacre and the attention it gets compare to how the Palestinians are lucky to get all international attention and support, while they are committing the terrorist crimes.
In Iraq. The Christians were 5% of the population in 1930, and now they have almost annihilated – less than 1%. First, there was Saddam Hussein; then when Iraq has become a failed state, due to the US march of folly in the Middle East, the Muslim groups and organizations are perpetrating a genocide against Christians, including the destruction of world historical heritage sites.
To this story of the mass genocide one may add the persecution of the Kurds by hundreds of thousands, and since 2003, another front has been opened: the massacre of Muslim Shiites by Muslim Sunnis through terrorist acts, by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. He should be regarded perhaps the greatest terrorist ever, who was the father and the Mentor of the Islamic Caliphate State. `Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist, assesses: Not since the Nazi era has there been anything like the declaration of war on the Shiites in Iraq. The Sunnis persecute the Shiites and declare them infidels. al-Qaeda is waging a war of collective extermination against the Shiites in Iraq.
In Egypt. There is constant harassment and persecution of the Coptic Christians. The Egyptian reformist, Tarik Heggy details: the Copts live in a deep religious intolerance, hateful fanaticism and mortal persecution.
In Algeria, the government embarked on a campaign of forced Arabization of the non-Arab Berber Muslim population, including social and economic harassment. From 1992 there is an internal civil war with 130,000 of fatalities.
In Lebanon, the Christians comprised 86% of the population in 1920, and now they are less than 20%, and counting down.
Majid Aziza, an Arab liberal scholar analyzes the plight of the Christians in the Muslim world: They are massacred and tortured, their communities were destroyed, and the acts of coercion, discrimination, and collective expulsion have caused the almost disappearance of the Christian from the Middle East
Gaza has shown the worst behavior of civil war, to the extent that Watch Organization accused both sides with perpetuating war crimes against civilians. We hear new songs: Fath accuses Hamas of perpetuating Nazi means, being blood suckers. Abu Mazen has declared: “Hamas are the sons of evil… the worst enemies of the Palestinians… they deserve death… Hamas have brought Hezbollah and Iran… This is a struggle against the Emirate of Darkness and Backwardness. Gaza will turn into a Taliban-style Islamic emirate with Iranian and Syrian support…”
Unified Libya will come only via ballot box, ‘not the gun’-UNSC
Libya is at a “delicate and fragile juncture in its path to unity and stability”, the UN Political Affairs chief told the Security Council on Monday, urging the international community to remain united in supporting national elections postponed last month.
In welcoming positive developments across three different tracks of intra-Libyan dialogue, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also recognized the challenges that must be overcome.
“So many Libyans have told us, the way towards a stable and united Libya is through the ballot box, not the gun”, she said. “We must stand with them”.
Growing polarization among political actors, and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process, led to the postponement of long anticipated elections on 24 December.
The High National Commission for Elections (HNEC) cited shortcomings in the legal framework along with political and security concerns. To address this, the House of Representatives has established a Roadmap Committee to chart a new political path that defines an elections timetable and process.
New Special Adviser
To date, she has undertaken wide-ranging consultations, including with members of the Government of National Unity (GNU), the High National Election Commission, the House of Representatives, and candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections.
Oil-rich Libya has descended into multiple crises since the overthrow of former rule Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, which in recent years saw the country divided between rival administrations – a UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and that of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar.
Ms. Williams has reiterated that the focus of the political process now, should remain on holding “free, fair, inclusive and credible national elections” in the shortest possible timeframe.
“In all her meetings, the Special Adviser highlighted the 2.8 million Libyans who have registered to vote”, said Ms. DiCarlo, adding that she also called on everyone to respect the will of the Libyan people and to adhere to the timeline agreed to in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) roadmap, which was endorsed by the Security Council.
The UN political affairs chief said ongoing dialogue among political, security and economic actors from across the country was key.
“We have seen reports of consultations between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the High State Council, as well as among presidential candidates from western and eastern Libya”, she said.
On the security track, there have been meetings among various armed groups, as well as the Chief of General Staff of the Western Military Forces under the GNU and the acting General Commander of the rival LNA, with the participation of military chiefs and heads of military departments from both sides.
Turning to the economy, further steps have been taken to reunify the Central Bank of Libya.
Moreover, renewed efforts continue to advance national reconciliation based on the principles of transitional justice.
While the ceasefire has continued to hold, “political uncertainty in the run up to the elections has negatively impacted the overall security situation”, the political chief informed the Council, including in Tripoli.
It has resulted in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates, she added.
Similarly, unfulfilled demands made to the GNU by the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) in western Libya resulted in the shutdown of oil production, causing the National Oil Corporation to declare in December, force majeure – a clause that removes liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes.
Following negotiations between the PFG and the GNU, Oil production was restored on 9 January.
To implement the ceasefire agreement, last month military representatives from opposing sides, called the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC), discussed with Turkish and Russian authorities, an Action Plan to gradually withdrawal mercenaries and foreign fighters from the country.
At the same time, despite serious logistical and security challenges, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continued its work to establish a ceasefire monitoring hub in Sirte, pending the GNU’s approval on accommodation and office facilities.
Human rights concerns
“The human rights situation in Libya remains very worrying”, said Ms. DiCarlo, noting “documented incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation”, which she described as obstacles toward a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.
“We are particularly concerned that women and men working to protect and promote women’s rights continued to be targeted by hate speech, defamation and incitement to violence”, she stated. “Some of the disturbing social media posts that posed a threat to the safety and security of these persons were removed after UNSMIL brought them to the attention of social media platforms”.
Meanwhile, arbitrary detention by State and non-State actors continued across the country, with many detainees subjected to serious rights abuses.
The situation of migrants and refugees is also highly concerning.
“Large numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea and returned to Libya continue to be detained in inhumane and degrading conditions with restricted humanitarian assistance. Thousands are unaccounted for”, the UN official said.
Ms. DiCarlo pointed out that hundreds of foreign nationals were expelled from Libya’s eastern and southern borders without due process, with some “placed in extremely vulnerable situations across remote stretches of the Sahara Desert without sufficient food, water, safety and medical care”.
“The United Nations remains ready to work with Libyan authorities on a long-term national response to migration and refugee management in line with international law to include addressing human rights concerns”, she assured.
To ensure political progress, Elham Saudi, Co-founder and Director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, said that all who commit abuses must be held accountable, including mercenaries.
She noted that without law, revenge would be the only winner.
Ms. Saudi also maintained the importance of an enabling environment for all rights advocates, especially women, and expressed hopes for a human-rights based approach in how Libya is governed, going forward.
Embarking on Libya’s Noble Foray Into the Future
On Saturday the 22nd of January, activists from across the civil society spectrum in Libya gathered over Zoom with one purpose in mind; publicly declaring their support for the 1951 Libyan Independence Constitution. Despite the political turmoil which has engulfed the country since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011, a strong civil society movement which supports a return to our historical constitution, has always existed in Libya. These supporters, who represent a significant number of Libyans from across the country, see the restoration of the 1951 constitution as the only way to shape their future.
Libya has been through an immeasurable amount of internationally led initiatives, all aimed at providing Libya with long term “solutions”. Only over the course of the past decade, one can count the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement in December of 2015, the 2017 Paris meeting, the 2018 Palermo conference alongside Mohammed bin Zayed’s Abu Dhabi gathering in February 2019. Followed by Putin and Erdogan’s joint call for a ceasefire in 2020, alongside the first (2020) and second (2021) Berlin conferences alongside UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, each and every one of these efforts amounted to nothing.
The main reason behind these, perhaps well-intentioned but failed attempts, was the simple fact that none of these efforts had any grounding in Libyan history or the support of the Libyan people. Reaching consensus in a society as heavily divided as that of Libya, is a significant challenge. However, placing our faith in our history will undoubtedly provide us with a solution that is closer to the hearts of citizens of our nation and which has the potential to assist in competing factions finally putting their differences aside.
This was the catalyst of Saturday’s meeting which sought to once and for all provide an authentically Libyan solution to the issues which have been plaguing the country for over a decade. The first of these is the preservation of our territorial integrity which has for too long been challenged by foreign actors. It is high time that a long term resolution for our country’s ills is found that ensures the exclusion of foreign elements from shaping the future of our great land.
The second issue the gathering sought to underscore was the need to build an inclusive future for all members of Libyan society. For far too long, our country has excluded citizens of certain political persuasions, cultural backgrounds or those who hold different opinions. Every Libyan deserves equal opportunities, protection of basic rights alongside access to justice. This has been impossible in a country which for so long has lacked a cohesive national identity.
These two issues are indeed intertwined with the third issue which the conference sought to highlight, namely, our demand to return to constitutional legitimacy under the leadership of our Crown Prince Mohammed El Hasan el Rida el Senussi. As the sole heir to the throne of King Idris, passed down through the late Crown Prince Hassan, Prince Mohammad is the leader our country has yearned for.
With leadership claims grounded in historical fact that cannot be upended by foreign or domestic elements, from an ideological standpoint, Prince Mohammad serves as an anchor, offsetting challenges to stability posed by foreign elements. This is strengthened by his position as the scion of a family which has been in Libya for centuries and founded the Senoussia movement, briniging with it Islam, to the country. Furthermore, historical memories of the reign of King Idris, which saw religious tolerance, gender equality and security for its citizens, reflects the future which Libyan’s would like to see for themselves today.
Bringing together journalists, academics, human rights defenders and political activists, Saturday’s gathering was indeed revolutionary. It would have been unimaginable that such a gathering would even have taken place a mere decade ago. Representing not only themselves, but a wide range of segments of Libyan society, those attending over Zoom broadcasted a powerful message; a rejection of foreign attempts top shape the future of the country alongside a return to historical, constitutional, legitimacy under the leadership of the only man who can help Libya exit the current quagmire and begin its noble foray into the future.
“Kurdish Spring”: drawing to a close?
For decades, the Kurdish problem was overshadowed by the Palestinian one, occasionally popping up in international media reports following the much-publicized arrest of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the genocide of Iraqi Kurds and the scandalous referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. A few years ago, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds’ opposition to the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia) pushed them to the forefront of global politics with the media now talking about the so-called “Kurdish Spring.”
In short, the Kurdish problem boils down not only to the absence of independent statehood for 40 million people, who account for approximately 20 percent of the population of Turkey and Iraq, and between eight and 15 percent of Iran and Syria, but also to the refusal by Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to discuss the possibility of an autonomous status for the Kurds. Today, the very issue of Kurdish independence is being hushed up, at least in public.
The first example of Kurdish statehood in modern history was in Iran: in 1946, the Kurdish Autonomous Republic was proclaimed in the city of Mahabad, only to survive less than a year. Since then, the Iranian authorities have spared no effort to make sure the name of one of the country’s provinces (Kurdistan Ostan) is the only remainder of the Kurds’ presence in the Islamic Republic. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that the Kurds, most of whom happen to be Sunnis, are a hurdle on Tehran’s official course to achieve the religious unity of the Iranian people.
Since all Kurdish organizations, let alone political parties, are outlawed, most of them are based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan. For most Kurdish organizations, the original goal of gaining independence has increasingly been transformed into a demand for autonomy for Kurds inside Iran.
The other “pole” of Kurdish nationalism is Iraqi Kurdistan. The history of the region’s autonomy goes back to 1970, and since the 90s, it has been sponsored by the Americans, who needed a ground base for the “Gulf War.” In 2003, the Iraqi Peshmerga helped the Anglo-American troops to topple the country’s ruling Ba’athist regime.
Under the current Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan enjoys broad autonomy, bordering on the status of an independent state with nearly 40 foreign consulates general, including a Russian one, officially operating in the regional capital Erbil, and in Sulaymaniyah.
Following the referendum on independence (2017), which was not recognized by either Baghdad or the world community (except Israel), Baghdad sent troops into the region, forcing the resignation of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Massoud Barzani. He has maintained a close presence though, with both the current president and the prime minister bearing the same surname.
According to various sources, the armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds number between 80,000 to 120,000, armed with heavy weapons, armored vehicles and tanks, and their number keeps growing. Who are they going to fight? Erbil is on fairly good terms with Turkey and Iran, the autonomy’s two “windows to the world,” and you don’t need a huge army to keep the remnants of jihadist forces in check, do you? Iraq? Iraq is a different matter though, given the presence of disputed territories, the unsettled issue of distribution of oil export revenues, and a deep-seated rejection of the 2017 Iraqi military invasion.
However, the political ambitions of the Barzani and Talabani clans, who divided Iraqi Kurdistan into zones of influence back in the 70s, are obviously offset by oil revenues, and are unlikely to extend beyond the “return” of the territories lost to Baghdad in 2017.
The Turkish factor is a major factor in the life of Iraqi Kurdistan: several thousand Turkish military personnel are deployed there, checking the activity of mountains-based armed units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is branded by Ankara as a “terrorist” organization. Baghdad is unhappy about their presence, while Erbil, rather, pretends to be unhappy as it is in a state of undeclared war with the PKK itself. At the same time, Turkish soldiers are standing by to nip in the bud any further attempts by the region’s Kurdish authorities to gain sovereignty as Ankara fears that an independent Kurdish state will set a “bad example” for Kurds living in Turkey proper.
During the 1980s, several regions in southeastern Turkey declared themselves “liberated” from Ankara. In 1984, the “Marxist-Leninist” PKK (created in 1978) prevailed over all the other local Kurdish groups and declared war on the Turkish authorities. Following the arrest of their leader in 1999, the PKK militants were squeezed out of the country into Syria and Iraq, despite the fact that discarding the slogan of creating a “united and independent” Kurdistan, the party had already settled for a demand for Kurdish autonomy within Turkish borders.
For many decades, the Turkish authorities denied the very existence of Kurds as an ethnic group. During the 2000s, in a bid to sweeten the pill for the Kurds, and meeting the requirements of the European Union, the Turkish government came up with the so-called “Kurdish initiative,” lifting the ban on the use of the Kurdish language, returning Kurdish names to a number of settlements, etc.
Legal organizations and parties, advocating the rights of the Kurds, were granted greater freedom of action. However, this did not prevent the authorities from banning such parties for “connections with terrorists” and “separatism.” The current Kurdish party (creation of any associations on a national basis is prohibited) – the Peoples’ Democracy Party – is also under serious pressure with some of its leading members currently behind bars.
However, the apparent defeat in the military conflict with NATO’s second largest army is forcing Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists to focus on a legal political struggle.
During the past few years the main attention of the international community has for obvious reasons been focused on the Syrian Kurds, who for many decades remained “second-class citizens” or even stateless persons in their own country. Any manifestations of discontent, which occasionally boiled over into uprisings, was severely suppressed by the authorities.
With the outbreak of the civil war, the Kurds assumed the position of armed neutrality, and in 2012, announced the creation of their own statehood with the capital in El Qamishli. Six years later, the name of the quasi-state was changed from a “democratic federation” to an “autonomous administration,” meant to demonstrate the refusal by the authorities of Syrian Kurdistan to pursue their initial demand for independence.
Needless to say, that change of priorities was prompted by the occupation by Turkish troops and their proxies of parts of the Kurdish territories. In 2019, Ankara halted its military advance only after the Kurds had allowed Syrian troops into the areas under their control, and international players “dissuaded” Ankara from any further expansion.
In addition to the Turkish factor, another important factor with a serious bearing on the situation are US troops and members of American military companies who remain in northeastern Syria without any legal grounds for their presence. Back when the current US President was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he promoted the idea of creating a Kurdish state in Iraq and Syria. The Kurds have long lost their faith in Washington’s desire to grant them independence, but in bargaining with Damascus for the delimitation of powers, they never miss a chance to refer to US support.
However, in recent years, the Syrian Kurds (and not only them) have had ample opportunity to feel the results of Washington’s unreliability as a partner.
A lack of trust in the Americans, on the one hand, and the constant threat from Turkey, on the other, are forcing the Kurdish leaders to ramp up the negotiation process with the leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic. Moreover, the Kurds are pinning their hopes for the success of the negotiations primarily on the mediation of Russia, given Moscow’s allied relations with the Syrian authorities. Besides, Moscow maintains working ties with the leadership of the self-proclaimed autonomy, and with the leaders of the opposition Kurdish parties.
Meanwhile, the negotiations are stalling with Damascus opposed to the idea of either autonomy or the preservation of the Kurdish armed forces’ organizational independence. It is still imperative, however, for the sides to agree on certain conditions. The “return” of the Kurds can become a turning point in the intra-Syrian confrontation as the Americans will feel too “uncomfortable” in a united Syria, and the Turks will lose the main argument for their continued occupation of the border zone, which will now be controlled not by “terrorists,” but by the central government. Which, by the way, is gaining more and more legitimacy even in the eyes of yesterday’s irreconcilable opponents.
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