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The Cultural-Historical Debate behind the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (B)

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What about Jews’ legal rights? Israel’s political rights and sovereignty over the mandated territory called ‘Palestine’ were favored under International Law. In 1917 Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his famous ‘Declaration,’ with the consent of the cabinet. In 1920, the Ottoman Empire in Article 95 of the Treaty of Sevres, granted its sovereignty in the Middle East, which had been undisputed for 400 years, to Great Britain. In 1920 San Remo convention, the Allies adopted Lord Balfour’s declaration as its policy, called ‘The British Mandate,’ that became International Law.

The 1922 Palestine Mandate specifically refers to the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” and called for the Jewish people to begin “reconstituting of their national home.” In 1924, the British Mandate became the domestic law of England and the US. The UN continued with this policy, according to article 80 of its Charter. So, Israel emerged from the British Mandate with the support of the League of Nations, and recognition of the UN.

Furthermore, 99% of the lands captured from the Ottomans in the Middle East and the North Africa was allocated to the Arabs. Only 1% was given to the Jews under the British mandate. After Churchill gave Transjordan to Abdullah, the Arabs and Muslims had 99.77% of the lands, and the Jews only one quarter of one percent. These figures expose the whole reality of the Middle East. Does Israel really threaten the Arab world? Or perhaps better say, Israel is under a lethal threat of existence, of total annihilation as a state and as a people from the Arab and Muslim world.  

The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice done to the Palestinian nation proceeds on gross errors and lies: to claim that the Palestinian nation was displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time is playing with the facts of history and twisting it. To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a gross lie, since there was no Palestinian sovereignty on any territory. The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Jordan, which annexed the ‘West Bank;’ and Egypt, which retained the Mandatory system in Gaza.

After the failure of the Arab states in 1948 war to defeat Israel, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, which appropriated the Palestinian issue to themselves. All armistice agreements were conducted and signed by the Arab states. No mention of the ‘Palestinians’ as a people and ‘Palestine’ as a territory. The fact is that UN Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to conciliation regime between Israel and the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the ‘refugee problem’ in general terms. If this means Palestinians, it no less means Jewish refugees from Arab states.

The allegations that Israel was established by the European colonialism, is cynical, ironical and aberration of the truth. It is exactly the Arab States that deserve their nationalities to the decisions of the European powers, including the delineating of their entire borders. Moreover, to accuse Israel of being the product of European colonialism, while the history of the Arabs and Islam is the pure form of imperialism, colonialism and occupation, is again twisting the truth.

The Middle East was mainly Christian before it was occupied by Islam; Egypt was Pharaonic; Iraq was Babylonian and Assyrian; Iran was Sassanid; Syria was Chaldean and Ugarit; Lebanon was Phoenician; the Land of Israel was Jewish and Christian; Turkey was Christian and partly Buddhist; North Africa was Berber; Afghanistan and Pakistan were Christian and Buddhist. They all and many other countries were harshly occupied and colonized by the Arabs and Islam. While European colonialism demised, Arab-Islamic colonialism and imperialism thrives and expanding ever today.

As about the Arab-Islamic historical cultural heritage, a short tour reveals everything. When a tourist visits Egypt, all he find are Pharaonic traditions. If he visits Iraq, all he find are Babylonian and Assyrian sites (unfortunately demolished by the Islamic Caliphate State). The same occurs with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other places. What about Islamic historical cultural sites?

The Palestinian refugees Issue. The Palestinians initiated a highly successful propaganda campaign that Israel occupies the land belonging solely to them, uprooted its nation and scattered them out of their land. The Palestinian Nakbah has become a myth, the lost paradise, and thus the utmost specter. However, even here, historical facts reveal that the original political use of the Nakbah was in 1920, when the local Arabs vehemently objected the separation of the territory from Syria.

The Palestinian national narrative depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the original sin, routinely equated with the Jewish Holocaust, and its remedy is turning the clock back to 1948. All Palestinian refugees, not just those still alive from 1948, but their millions of descendants, would be allowed to return to their homes. By that, this would entail the ending of the Jewish Zionist state.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a very small minority of them live in camps, and the socioeconomic data and the living standards show clearly that their situation not only resembles hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries, but in many ways the Palestinian economy and social situation is much better than at least one hundred states, including some Arab states.

The Palestinian issue is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land, since most of the Palestinians live in the land of ‘Mandatory Palestine,’ in area less than the distance between New York and Philadelphia. Small part of them still resides in refugee camps only because some still hope of the destruction of the State of Israel.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was scattered from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians live and reside in an Arabic speaking society and culture, among their own society. It is absolutely clear that the total majority of the so-called Palestinian refugees are in no sense true refugees, according to world standards and social-economic reality.

In the past ninety years, more than 130 million refugees around the world, mainly from Europe and Asia, of which only 640,000 were Palestinians. That is only one half of one percent of world refugees. This is the correct proportion. Of all the millions of people who became refugees, the only ones who still count themselves as refugees and who live at the expense of the nations of the world are the Palestinians. Over 90% of the refugees in the world have been rehabilitated, residing in the places where they resettled.

The enormous donations to the Palestinians are unfortunately earmarked mainly for corruption and terrorism. Those who are in need in Asia and Africa receive nothing. The poverty, misery and wretchedness are really there, mainly in Africa, but only the Palestinians get the world’s political, social and financial attention. The Palestinians live off the world’s charity at the expense of those who are truly in need of that charity.

One example of the so many of this tragedy is sufficed to illuminate the sick situation, and it comes precisely from a Muslim state: Pakistan. In August 2010 there were huge areas flooded in Pakistan, causing at least twenty million refugees without any means of living. It was defined by the UN “the greatest humanitarian disaster.” However, except of lip service declarations, including the UN Secretary General calling the world to donate money, the UN itself did nothing to treat these miserable refugees as compare to what the Palestinians get regularly.

The same situation occurred in 2009, where two millions of Pakistanis run away from their homes in Swat region taken by the Taliban, without even water to drink, but with the same pattern of the UN: doing nothing. The UN High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, described the displacement crisis as “one of the most dramatic in recent times,” but except of these high words UNHCR did very little to assist and sustain them.

And this is only one example of the so-many all over the world, let alone the last example of the Syrian tragedy of 9 million refugees scattered around without any help, that makes one sick and disgusted how the Palestinians succeed in manipulating world public opinion, attention and money donations.  

More illuminating and disturbing data give proportion to the Palestinian situation: a) at any given moment there are 15 to 25 million refugees living ‘outside of their border’ according to UN date, without food and shelter, in conditions far direr than the Palestinians; b) there are almost two hundred national-ethnic peoples in the world begging desperately for statehood, who do not wish to gain their independence at the cost of ruining other nation; c) one third of world population drink polluted water, most of them drink water that endanger their health, and every hour 8000 children die solely from drinking polluted water; d) one quarter of world populations have no toilets at home and use holes in a field; e) according to reliable data, there are 240 million slave-children around the world, including many from Muslim countries; f) there are, according to UNICEF and the International Woman Research, 51 million child-brides, all from Islamic countries, most of them are sexually harassed and beaten regularly, including one hundred million mutilated women.

The Palestinians are not included in this long poor miserable list.

There are three categories of refugees, according to the United Nations: refugees from all over the world; Palestinian refugees; and Jews refugees — with a totally different treatment. The first category is the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with refugees from all over the world, with the aim to give them a basic treatment, and to find quick and safe shelter for them, so that they are integrated or settled down as soon as possible. Those refugees are discouraged to remain refugees and to quickly find other accommodation alternatives. The budget allocated of UNHCR is 1.5 billion US$, with 6300 working personnel.

The second category is the Palestinian refugees. They are the special, privileged class. There is a special, separate UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), whose principal duty is to perpetuate their status as refugees forever; to prevent any attempt to settle them down; to provide them, their children and the next generations to the end of history to get a monthly special humanitarian social, economic, and welfare treatment. From 640 thousand refugees in 1948, UNRWA supports almost 4.5 million so-called Palestinian refugees. For that, it is the largest organization of the UN’s, with more than 28 thousand working personnel, 90 percent of them are Palestinians, and 2 billion US$ budget.

Under the humanitarian cover, UNRWA acts as a political organ, a giant pressure group for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee’s situation. Its activity is counterproductive in terms of the possibility of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem, by relegating them to a state of passivity and dependency.

Yet it is much worse. All educational system and schools run by UNRWA actively serve as greenhouses for praising terrorism as a source of hideous hatred and demonism against Israel and the Jews, and active bases of terrorism instruction and operations. The money donated by the Western states that defines Hamas and other groups as terrorist organizations goes to terrorism; the food supply serve Hamas activity; its warehouses stores weapons; and its workers drive terrorists and weapons with the cars and ambulances of UNRWA. Taken the huge money pour upon them, there is absolutely no motivation of the Palestinians to handle the issue and to recover out of the refugee status.          

The third category is the Jews. Nobody took care about them after the Second World War, and nobody even knows there was a Jewish refugee problem. After the establishment of the State of Israel, a million of Jews became refugees in many Arab lands, and had to leave their houses and huge property in Arab countries and to flee to Israel. None of these Jewish refugees were helped by the United Nations. All were set-tled long ago in their new environments, without being parasites of the world.

The following examples put the Palestinian refugees in perspective:

In April 2004, the UN General Assembly decided that it is impossible to implement the rights of the two hundred thousand Greeks and the fifty thousand Turks to return to their homes in partitioned Cyprus, cruelly occupied by Turkey in 1974, because “the new reality which has been created” must be taken into consideration. However, this stand of the UN is totally different concerning the Palestinian refugees. Why?

Following World War II, 11 million Germans were expelled from their homes in the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania, and were force-marched to Germany. Two million died on the way, but the others were absorbed in Germany. In 2004, few of them were seeking to return to their homes, not demanding to dissolve the country from which they were deported; not demanding to replace it; and not demanding money compensation. In August 2004, the German government determined they have no right of return even no reparations. However, the attitude of Germany and the EU towards the Palestinian refugees is totally different. Why?  

In 1968, the British Government exiled 5,000 of the residents of the Island of Diego Garcia, for the purpose of constructing an American air base. In 2003, the exiled residents demand to return to their homes in the island. Their demand was rejected by the British High Court of Justice that ruled out that the residents have neither the right to return nor to receive compensations. However, the British stand toward the Palestinian refugee problem is different. Why?  

Now the question is that out of all the misery and suffering in the world, and the last years are notoriously known of huge disasters culminating in tragedies almost everywhere, not to speak of the Millions refugees flooding Europe, the world is busy with the false detached “humanitarian situation in Gaza” and the need of “rescue flotillas” for the Palestinians? Why the world is silent while there are more than a billion poor and miserable starving and dying people around the world, the Palestinians continue to receive billions of dollars yearly? This immoral and unjustified flow of money continues even when the donating countries and the UN clearly know that large part of it goes to produce terrorism against Israel and increased corruption among the Palestinians.

Why the Kurds, 25 million people with well-known documented history living in the same Middle East, have no state of their own and nobody cares about their situation? Why the Christians, the original population in most of the Arab states, have become extinct species and nobody cares about their miserable fate, while the Palestinians are treated and sustained as if they are the last and only people with denied national aspirations? Indeed, the Palestinians got the greatest luck ever: Israel is their enemy. Otherwise, no one would have cared about them.

The Palestinians should look into the mirror and honestly ask: why there is no Palestinian state today? Is it Israel’s refusal, or their leadership’s obstinacy demanding ‘all or nothing’? The Palestinians could have established their state according to UN partition plan of November 1947 (decision 181), with a bigger territory than Israel. The Arabs could have conclude peace with Israel after 1948, instead of armistice agreements and establish a state for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, as most of contemporary plans are aimed to. However, unfortunately, both the Palestinian leadership and Arab states declined. The real question is whether the Palestinians are ready to establish a state on the 1967 borders, and to recognize Israel’s legitimacy by declaring the end of hostilities. Unfortunately, all indicators are clear: they do not, and they still believe they can achieve it all and destroy Israel.

One of the main reasons for their stubbornness is the political support, almost blindly and totally, they get from the international system, mainly from Europe, the UN, and even the US. The international community has emboldened them into believing that Israel can be delegitimized and weakened through international pressure. All the Palestinians need is to hold out long enough for achieving their ultimate goal. This situation of putting their case above most of world issues, as if their case is solved all other issues coming from the Middle East, including the Islamic immigration, are solved, is disastrous for the world; counter-productive for the Palestinians; and lethal to the existence of Israel.

There is mainly one cause to the continuation of this conflict, which is buried beneath an avalanche of media coverage and politicians’ declarations designed to obfuscate and confuse reality — the Palestinians’ refusal to come to terms with Israel’s existence as a Jewish Zionist state. Indeed, this conflict is not about the right of self-determination of the “Palestinian,” but rather it is about Jewish self-determination; it is not about Israel’s stubbornness and rejection of a “Palestinian state,” but rather about Arab and Palestinian stubborn rejection of Jewish statehood; it is not about Israel’s refusal to compromise, the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties clearly prove it, but about the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to compromise and to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Now, the question is why the Palestinians succeed in their propaganda full of lies and uncorroborated and unsubstantiated facts? The answer lies in the following syndromes:

The first is the Ignorance-Disinformation Syndrome (IDS). Most of the people, even those who have constant information of the situation, are not acquainted enough and do not know the details and the characteristics of the conflict, mainly because of cultural and ignorant barriers. One cannot avoid detecting the incredible amount of ignorance regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, so, when one pours highly concentrated lies and disinformation to the ignorant, the success is surely his.

Disputes about opinions and views when the facts are known is understandable; different views in describing facts are reasonable, since history is not an exact science; even Rashomon of telling different stories is acceptable. But, the fact is that so much Palestinian disinformation and atrocious lies has been poured so many years and by so many educated and intelligent people, is amazing. Distortions, misconceptions, and unadulterated lies are common, so that it became the whole truth.

Why do the Palestinians twist the reality? It is because they know their case is weak and unconvincing; because this is a cultural syndrome proven in Islamic history when relating to the other; because this is the message of the Qur’an that for the promotion of Islamic interests cheating and deceiving are permitted, and mainly because they wish not a compromised solution, but want it all. Why do they continue lying? Because they have solid proofs that their lies succeed, and world public opinion, leaders and the media, do not condemn them. The media is the Palestinians’ best friend.

James Baldwin, the American author has put this syndrome as follows: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

This is the reason why Goethe had reiterated the idea: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” This is why Alan Dershowitz has put it so succinctly: “When the best are accused being the worst, you have to look at the accusers.”

To make the situation even more complicated, there is the Mirror Image Syndrome (MIS), the twisted psychological behavioral and conceptual lenses through which we look into the situation and interpret it. This is perhaps our most lethal enemy, proven through historical research by Barbara Tuchman (the march of folly of leaders; their blind stubbornness, and their permeability of mind). It is also proven through psychological research by Norman Dixon (denying reality and rationalizing it); and through surprise attacks and misconceptions research. We analyze the situation and relate to our enemy through our own values and conceptions. However, what if our enemy is different from us culturally and conceptually? What if he is devoted to achieve his goals by all means we do not even appreciate politically and understand culturally? What if we play Checkmate while they play Sheshbesh?

In his the Missing Peace, the American Diplomat, Dennis Ross, noticed the salient fact that for the Arabs, any Israeli withdrawal and relinquishment is not enough. The revolutionary change is yet to come for the Arab world to recognize Israeli needs, let alone its existence. It is not enough to sit at the negotiation table and to talk peace and yet to maintain a different atmosphere in the streets, in the media and politics. Without a real change in Arab-Islamic political culture, it is highly doubtful that the Middle East is on the path of change towards peace. On the contrary, it is still a huge barrier to peace, as much as to democracy and civil rights. The Middle East, Ross concludes, is going backwards and not progressing, with a continued militancy of Islamism.

The Nazi and Japanese analogy is most instructive. As long as racism and militarism was the basis of Nazi and Japanese society, both could not enter the modern democratic world. The Allied powers, headed by the US, understood that the military defeat is not enough, and imposed a radical change on Nazi and Japanese societal values, education and politics. Germany and Japan were forced to abandon their ancient tradition of nationalistic racism and militarism and to embrace an open system of democracy. Only then were they able to become democratic and technologically advanced nations. This must be applicable, first and foremost to the Palestinians, who are spoiled by the blind international support (and to the Muslims at large concerning the West).  

Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the Aggressiveness-Victimhood as against Political Correct Syndrome (AVPCS). That means, understanding the ramifications of Arab-Islamic cultural phenomenon of victimhood as against Western politically correct approach. The Western trauma of politically correct of not to offend the other and to act according to fashion goes exactly with the Muslim demand of honor and not to be offended, being a supremacist religion.

The Arab-Muslims raise to unprecedented extremes their sensibilities; they immediately declare they are offended almost on every realm and every issue in day by day life. This situation, in its turn, deepens Western politically correct approach, and that process end with capitulation and apologies.

Whatever they do; no matter how aggressive is their behavior; how deep and horrible the atrocious violence they exhibit — from Arab-Muslim perspective, they are always the innocent victims who only defend their honor, their life and their land. This is a very well-known syndrome of the Arab-Islamic cultural trait of crying out and complaint (I’rad Baka’- Shaqa’), which is exemplified by the Arab saying: Darabni wa-Baka, Sabaqani wa-Shtaka (he hit me and cried out, he overtook me and grumbled). Add to this the Judeo-Christian guilt remorse, of internalizing the guilt, and the Arab-Islamic cultural syndrome of externalizing the guilt, and the result is clear: Arab Muslims win the situation, and Western civilization capitulates.

However, the most important is the leading scientific culture syndrome of the ‘post’ era, of ‘post imperialism’, ‘post modernism,’ ‘post colonialism,’ and relativism. This has become the new ideology, the god of new Western scientific era. Pascal Bruckner has called the Western intelligentsia’s new form as “tyranny of guilt,” a self-effacement of Western masochism that forbids any critical inquiry into the historical narratives of national movements granted the sanctified status of “oppressed.”

The Nakbah narrative cannot even be challenged. This is the horrible legacy of Edward Said’s atrocious approach of Orientalism, which was criticized harshly, among many others, by Bernard Lewis and Ibn Warraq. This approach has become a highly sophisticated grand strategy built on the foundations laid down by Said: all you have to win over is to disqualify, to invalidate and to delegitimize the other, whatever the circumstances, the situation and reality are. This one-sided totality, this black and white absoluteness, is one of the conspicuous cultural traits of Islam, known as al-Wala’ wal-Bara’, the loyalty to Islam and the animosity and hatred of the other.

The dire situation inherited from Said’s legacy is that contemporary Western research of the Middle East and Islam suffers from fear and dictation, out of post-colonial and guilt remorse and inferiority complex. According to this, one must accept the Middle East as is and must absolutely refrain of any judgment (but unfortunately and so tragically not Africa and Third World countries; only the Middle East!). This means that only the post-modernists, and of course Arabs and Muslims, hold the pure true academic indisputable knowledge of that field. Anyone who dares criticizing Arabs and Islam is being immediately accused outright as racist and Islamophobe.

Professor Fuad Ajami clearly stated: an accommodation with Israel is imperative, but the Palestinian leaders still demanding to have it all, ‘from the river to the sea.’ The Arab states have compounded the Palestinian radicalism, granted them everything and nothing at the same time, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to moderation and realism. The Palestinians should know better, aside from a handful of the most messianic Israelis and Europeans, there is a recognition that the Palestinians must come to term with reason and live in peace with Israel, or to drop off the history.

These are the basic reasons for the successful Palestinian’s propaganda of twisting reality and winning world public opinion’s stand. Of course, there is room for criticism on all sides. No one is solely righteous and no one is totally guilty of the situation. However, there is hardly such a case in which history has been so thoroughly written upside down and inside out and facts have been so profoundly manipulated as by the Palestinians. One day historians will devote in-depth many volumes studies of how did the Palestinians succeed in fooling so many people in such a long time, without the entire world standing up and crying out: enough is enough. Indeed, one can safely say: you can fool most of the people all the time; you can fool all the people most of the time; but you cannot fool all the people all the time – unless you are the Palestinians.

As Steven Simpson has put it, the fact is that the Palestinians and the Muslims at large still point to these hateful verses in the Qur’an, should give us a pause to consider if there can ever be true peace between Muslims and Jews. In the religious and cultural context, let alone the national territorial rivalry, the Palestinians cannot accept a Jewish state, and the big question under these circumstances, is it likely that true peace will reign in the Land of Israel?

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Iraq Has the ‘Highest Negative Experiences Worldwide’ (Gallup)

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Both Iraq and Iran have been and are being either sanctioned by or else constantly being threatened by the U.S. Government, though neither Iraq nor Iran ever invaded nor even threatened to invade the United States. This is pure aggression against both Iraq and Iran, and the millions of people who are suffering these constant aggressions are the peoples of Iraq and of Iran. Never does the U.S. Government apologize, and never do any of its allied governments (America’s vassal nations) so much as just suggest that the U.S. Government ought to apologize, for its constant wars of aggression against the peoples of those and of other countries that never threatened America. The U.S. is a constant international outlaw, launching wars of aggression routinely, and the rest of the world remains silent about this, decade after decade.

17 years after America’s conquest of Iraq, the “Gallup Global Emotions Report 2020”, which was just issued on November 19th, finds:

Iraq: The Most Negative Country in the World 

After years of posting some of the highest scores in the world on the Negative Experience Index, Iraq topped the list in 2019 with a score of 51. This figure represents a slight increase from its score of 49 in 2018. 

The country’s 2019 score reflects the turmoil in Iraq amid some of the largest and bloodiest protests in years. In late 2019, Iraqis’ approval of their country’s leadership plummeted from an already low 22% to just 13%. Nine in 10 Iraqis said corruption was widespread throughout their government. 

Negative experiences remained fairly common for most of the population in 2019, with at least roughly half of Iraqis experiencing each of the five experiences in the survey. Notably, Iraqis led the world in experiencing anger — which was on full display in the streets in 2019 and 2020 — with 46% saying they felt a lot of anger the previous day. 

No other country posted a Negative Experience Index score higher than Iraq’s, but, as in past years, people in several countries with high negative scores in 2019 were typically contending with some type of turmoil. Many have been at the top of the list for several years, including Chad, which was the most negative country in the world in 2018. However, there were several new appearances in 2019: Rwanda, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Tunisia. 

This is nothing new. Gallup’s “Global Emotions Report 2015” said:

Iraq, Iran Top Negative Experience List for Second Consecutive Year

Iraq and Iran have the highest Negative Experience Index scores in the world for the second year in a row. Iraq has been No. 1 on this index three times — in 2011, 2013 and 2014 — and has been among the top five in all other years since 2008. Iran was No. 1 in 2012 and has made at least the top 15 countries in the years when Gallup has conducted surveys there. The presence of Iraq and Iran at the top of the list may not be that surprising given the political and economic turmoil that people in these countries have been experiencing lately, and how strongly related negative scores are to people’s perceptions about their living standards and health problems. In fact, people in most of the countries with the highest negative scores in 2014 were contending with some type of disruption — economic or otherwise — including Liberia, which was dealing with the onset of the Ebola outbreak at the time of the survey.

In that year’s surveys (2014), all ten of the countries that had the “Lowest Negative Experience Index Scores,” except Rwanda, Myanmar, and Taiwan, were countries that prior to 1991 were communist countries, and included both Russia and China.

On 29 September 2015, I headlined about that report, “GALLUP: ‘Iraqis Are the Saddest & One of the Angriest Populations in the World’,” and closed with “Is Uzbekistan really the best place to live? Anyway, it’s one of the few countries that the U.S. didn’t grab control of, either by outright invasion, or by means of a coup.” All of the ten-best-scoring, and ten worst-scoring, nations, in that report, were listed there.

In that 2015 report, Iraq scored as #1 on “negative experiences,” and Iran scored as #2. In the 2020 report, Iraq is again #1 on it, but Iran is now #9 on it. The 2015 report said: “Iraq’s high Negative Experience Index score is largely attributable to the relatively high percentages of Iraqis who report experiencing each of these negative emotions. Majorities of Iraqis experienced worry (62%), physical pain (57%), sadness (57%) and stress (55%) the previous day, and half of Iraqis (50%) said they experienced anger. Iraqis lead the world in experiencing sadness and tie with Iran on anger (49%).” Great going, team America! America’s liar-in-chief, who deceived Americans into invading Iraq, George W. Bush, had a favorable/unfavorable rating of 59%/37%, or a 1.6 net-favorability score, in Gallup’s latest (2017) survey; and the last time when Gallup had surveyed and found at least as high a ratio for him was in January 2004, 65%/35%, or 1.86: his approval by the American people at that time was 1.86 times favorable, as compared to unfavorable. So, Americans simply don’t hold such monstrous lying leaders accountable, at all — not only don’t execute them, but don’t even especially despise them, for the gratuitous vast harms, which such a leader had produced.

Now, five years later, in Gallup’s 2020 report, the ten “Lowest Negative Experiences Worldwide” nations are still dominated by countries that, prior to 1991, were communist. Here is that list, of these ten countries, and their respective “Negative Experience” scores, in the 2019 surveys:

  • Taiwan 13
  • Kazakhstan 15
  • Mongolia 16
  • Azerbaijan 16
  • Turkmenistan 17
  • Poland 17
  • Estonia 17
  • Vietnam 18
  • Malaysia 19
  • Kyrgyzstan 19
  • China 19 

Again, only two of them had not been communist, but this time a different two: Malaysia and Taiwan.

Here are the 2020 report’s “Highest Negative Experiences Worldwide”:

  • Iraq 51
  • Rwanda 49
  • Afghanistan 48
  • Chad 48
  • Lebanon 48
  • Sierra Leone 48
  • Guinea 47
  • Tunisia 46
  • Iran 45
  • Togo 45

So: Rwanda went from being the 7th-lowest in the “Negative Experience Index Scores” in 2015, to being the 2nd-highest in the “Negative Experience Index Scores” in 2020. That suggests some type of terrible change in Rwanda during those five years.

Here are the changes in “Lowest Negative Experiences Worldwide” between the 2015 report and the 2020 report:

2015

  • Uzbekistan 12
  • China 15
  • Mongolia 15
  • Myanmar 15
  • Russia 15
  • Taiwan 15
  • Rwanda 16
  • Kazakhstan 17
  • Kyrgyzstan 17
  • Turkmenistan 18

2020

  • Taiwan 13
  • Kazakhstan 15
  • Mongolia 16
  • Azerbaijan 16
  • Turkmenistan 17
  • Poland 17
  • Estonia 17
  • Vietnam 18
  • Malaysia 19
  • Kyrgyzstan 19
  • China 19

Not even the American people benefit from the U.S. Government’s constant invasions, and coups, and economic sanctions, against so many countries that never posed any threat to the U.S. Only America’s billionaires benefit, and too few of those exist for them to show up in any of these “happiness” and “misery” figures from Gallup. They control the U.S. Government and thereby spread misery in so many places, to benefit only themselves.

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Syrian Idlib: What’s Next?

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In October 2020, as the media reported Russia’s Aerospace forces resuming their strikes against the local armed opposition, Turkey relocating its observation posts, and Syrian militants fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, the global community once again turned its attention to the events in Idlib. It is important to consider possible development scenarios in the light of both Idlib’s distinctive features and of those characteristics it has in common with other territories not controlled by the Syrian authorities, in the light of the balance of power within the Idlib “pocket”, in the light of the interests Turkey and other external forces have there, and in the light of modalities of military or peaceful settlement and Moscow’s actions.

Is Idlib a “Unique Rebellious Province”?

At first glance, like the territory of the Kurds’ Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Idlib seems to have formed a military conflict economy existing in parallel with the official Syrian economy controlled by the Syrian government. Unlike the oil-rich Kurdish regions, which are also Syria’s “breadbasket”, however, Idlib has no natural resources at all. Before the war, Idlib was a poorly developed province working in traditional agriculture, mostly olive-growing. Consequently, compared to the AANES, Idlib was far more vulnerable to the actions of external actors and Damascus’s ambitious plans to use force to restore Syria’s territorial integrity. Not only did Idlib fail to become a successful project of the Syrian opposition (which could not but fail for objective reasons), it became hostage to foreign aid.

Like Syria in general, Idlib shows signs of a humanitarian crisis. While the 2004 census put Idlib’s population at a little over 1,258,000, as of August 7, 2020, the local population swelled to 4.1 million, 2.7 million of them internally displaced persons from other governorates and 2.8 million of them in need of food and medications (reported by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Another mass exodus of non-combatants into Idlib took place following the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) successful offensive in December 2019 – March 2020. Since foreign aid is politicised (see, for instance, the highly publicised story of American and British NGOs halting deliveries of humanitarian aid from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in September 2018 in an attempt to strip Idlib radicals of their benefits), it is easy to predict that an “overnight” change of the status quo in favour of Damascus will result in restricting donor aid and, as a consequence, in a humanitarian disaster.

Idlib became a “pocket” for the opposition “squeezed” between areas liberated by the SAA and Turkey. At the same time, unlike the security zone in the North, which is de jure governed by the “Syrian provisional government” but is de facto controlled by Ankara, in Idlib, much to the Turks’ displeasure, the key role is still played not by the militants from the National Front for the Liberation of Syria (NFL) loyal to Turkey, but by the recalcitrant jihadists from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) (banned in Russia as a terrorist organisation), which previously had ties with Al-Qaeda (also banned in Russia as a terrorist organisation).

Local reconciliations (or pacifications) in Idlib appeared impossible in principle: this region had absorbed intransigent opposition members from the South of Syria and from the Damascus region, and they had nowhere to go since Turkey had always been set against letting unpredictable radicals on to its own territory. Idlib jihadists flatly rejected reconciliation with the Syrian authorities, admitting only that civilians had been forced to take part, but they never agreed to such participation on the part of their comrades-in-arms, whom they spitefully dubbed “frogs” for their willingness to defect to the government camp. The situation began to change a relatively short time ago when radical groups left Idlib for conflict-riven Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. This situation prompted intensified internationalisation of the “Idlib dossier”, while it also meant that further developments were volatile and had an element of chance to them. Heightened internationalisation is also due to the maximum number of external actors turning their attention to the Idlib “pocket”. Idlib alone remains a matter of concern for China in Syria since there are Uighur radicals from the Turkistan Islamic Party in the West of the governorate.

The “Layer Cake” of the Armed Opposition: Radicals and “Businessmen”

Taking as our axiom that any way out of the Idlib impasse is going to be difficult, we should say a few words about local armed groups and management of the Idlib economy, since both factors can shed some light on certain promising settlement modalities.

Initially, Idlib’s administrative system was based on the decentralisation principle, which is reminiscent of the autonomous architecture of the local authorities in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). 144 municipal councils were formed, offering a wide range of services from managing bakeries to maintaining roads and collecting rubbish. They had the signal status of direct recipients of foreign aid. As one humanitarian worker quipped, “If [in Idlib – I.M.] you’re not a guy with a gun … then your connection to power is through [humanitarian – I.M.] assistance”. So Idlib’s decentralisation is really different from the governance system established in the Kurdish region in that the former is excessively dependent on foreign support while having no economic programme of its own and no transparency.

The situation in Idlib is characterised by the dominance of local economic heavies combined with the people’s wariness when it comes to introducing an Islamic way of life (Sharia), which prompted the ideologues of the An-Nusra Front (banned in Russia as a terrorist organisation) after seizing the provincial centre in March 2015 to refrain from following the example of ISIS (banned in Russia as a terrorist organisation), so, instead of proclaiming an Islamic “Emirate”, they opted for more flexible tactics. They proclaimed their desire to take various interests into account without permitting violations. At the same time, the principle of “invitation” or “Islamic messianism” entailed ideological indoctrination of the population through face-to-face, in-person communication and public condemnation campaigns against smoking and wearing secular clothes.

The ideologues of the HTS that took over from an-Nusra consolidated their military control over Idlib in January 2019 and remained pragmatic. HTS leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani said that their priority was to preserve a single secular administration in Idlib, referring to the umbrella Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) founded on November 2, 2017; it consisted of both HTS supporters and independent technocrats. Despite the hardliners from Egypt and Jordan, HTS warlords from among the Syrians began to position themselves as businessmen viewing control over Idlib as an economic project (while, in reality, it is a means for personal enrichment).

The negative aspect of the HTS “commercialisation” consisted in attempts to take over transit trade crossing the border at Bab al-Hawa and deliveries of Turkish oil by the monopolist company Watad Petroleum. On May 11, 2017, the HTS announced it was establishing the Public Institution for Monetary Regulation and Consumer Rights Protection charged with monitoring financial transactions. Most such transactions were based on hawal principles (a trust-based system of informal payments between brokers and traders) and were carried out through the local monetary financial “hub”, the town of Sarmadam which is in the immediate vicinity of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.

The HTS’s claims to economic dominance repeatedly prompted countermeasures by Idlib’s heavies, who used the discontent of the local populace with their low quality of life. In October-November 2019, they managed to bring protesters to the streets demanding that both the SSG and Abu Mohammad al-Julani resign. Although the protesters’ demand for a “government” reshuffle were met, HTS militants took by assault the town of Kafr Takharim, whose residents refused to pay the tax on manufacturing olive oil. The Covid-19 pandemic became yet another challenge: although the HTS supported the lockdown measures imposed by the SSG, many rank-and-file militants refused to obey and continued their Friday prayers, which make it impossible to maintain social distancing.

What is Idlib for Turkey: A Red Line or a Pawn in a Big Game?

Ensuring the security of Turkey’s southern borders and countering Kurdish separatism have been and remain Turkey’s unconditional priorities. In that sense, retaining control over the security zone in the North and preventing Syrian Kurds from a military retaliation are clearly more important than Turkey’s presence in Idlib: should need be, Turkey is ready to make concessions over the governorate in exchange for boosting Ankara’s positions in the North and pushing Kurdish self-defence units away from the border.

Does this mean that Turkey is already prepared to sacrifice Idlib? Certainly not, and Operation Spring Shield proves it: on February 27 – March 6, 2020, the Turkish military put a stop to a local SAA offensive and subsequently increased its forces in Syria. Foreign experts believe that, between February 2 and October 21, 2020, Turkey moved 10,615 units of military equipment and military vehicles to Idlib. Given its domestic economic difficulties related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Turkey is not prepared to take in new waves of Idlib refugees if Damascus gains a rapid military victory. This is especially true since those refugees could include intractable jihadists capable of causing a wave of terror attacks in Turkey itself; the best-case scenario for Ankara is to transfer those people to various hotbeds of unrest (such as Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh).

Turkey’s apparent determination in Idlib is motivated to some degree by its desire to maintain what Russian columnists have dubbed “opposition conservation areas” in Syria. Tying those opposition forces to Turkey by economic means (against the backdrop of the US Caesar Act, the Turkish lira has replaced the Syrian pound in the security zone in the Syrian North and in Idlib), in its bargaining with Damascus, Moscow and Tehran on Syria’s future political makeup, Turkey’s leadership is banking on the “trump card of rebellious territories”. Information about Turkey’s efforts to form an alliance in Idlib that would include the “Syrian Corps” and other NFL elements, as well as “constructive” ones from the HTS has been leaked on a website with ties to the Syrian opposition, and this information should be considered in the same context.

Finally, Turkey’s leadership and Erdogan himself increasingly view the “Idlib question” through the lens of a difficult dialogue with Russia on the Libyan and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts (on October 25, Russia’s Aerospace Force delivered a strike against the Syrian Corps militants in Idlib, which Russian media dubbed “Bakh for Karabakh”[1]). Turkey has started relocating eight military observation posts in Idlib, as those posts had been blocked in an SAA-liberated area (the post in Murek was evacuated on October 19-20, 2020), which is not only for security reasons, but also due to Turkey’s desire to avoid a severe confrontation with Moscow in Syria. This would be against Ankara’s interest, given its support for Azerbaijan’s offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh.

To sum up, we can conclude that Idlib remains valuable for Turkey, yet, unlike the security zone in Northern Syria, it cannot be called a “red line” in the architecture of Turkey’s national interests that Ankara intends to protect to the bitter end.

A Military Scenario or a Political Compromise?

We do not discard the hypothetical possibility of the Syrian authorities regaining control of Idlib by military force with the aid from its allies, Russia and Iran, yet this scenario today appears unlikely. It would have highly negative consequences for Syrians themselves, prompting a local humanitarian disaster, chaos and a sharp increase in crime (as happened when the government forces defeated the opposition units in Syria’s South in the summer of 2018), and even forcing disjointed terrorist groups to flee to other districts in Syria.

The preferable scenario for settling the Idlib problem appears to be a compromise, in essence, pacification adapted to the local specifics. The scenario is to be based on the four “Ds”:

deradicalisation of the opposition, (primarily HTS): this is possible once intransigent and “professional” militants, mostly foreign ones, withdraw from Idlib; this is the common point in the interests of foreign actors;

deideologisation of the regional elite: this entails moving away from the ideas of Jihadism in favour of implementing a consensus programme for socioeconomic development, with both local interest groups and technocrats involved;

demilitarisation of the Idlib zone: post-conflict integration of former militants into territorial law enforcement and municipal bodies;

decentralisation: granting Idlib a special transitional status within a unified Syria.

In practice, this could imply adopting a separate socioeconomic programme for rebuilding Idlib, involving international financing and creating the conditions for vertically integrating the regional into the pan-national elite following disbandment of the Syrian Salvation Government.

Russia’s Role in Resolving the Idlib Problem

As a leading external actor in the Syrian conflict, Russia has the ability to now contribute to bringing a peaceful settlement closer in Idlib by 1) pointing the Syrian authorities toward pacification instead of a blitzkrieg; 2) advancing, jointly with Turkey among other actors, the involvement of the regional elite in the inclusive Syrian peaceful process; 3) continuing its military support for Syria’s government forces to prevent provocations by Idlib radicals intended to undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement.

1. This is a pun that resists translation: the last syllable in the word Karabakh, “bakh”, is an onomatopoeic Russian word meaning “kaboom” – translator’s note.

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Middle East

Libyans charting way to secure and prosperous future, but challenges lie ahead

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Following years of political instability and conflict, Libya is making substantial progress on the path to peace, the top UN official in the country told the Security Council on Thursday. 

Stephanie Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN’s mission in Libya, UNSMIL, outlined recent developments including a nationwide ceasefire agreed last month and the start of political dialogue last week in neighbouring Tunisia. 

“After many years of oppression, division, chaos, misery and conflict, Libyans are coming together for the sake of Libya, for the sake of their children and grandchildren, to chart a Libyan vision for the way forward that has the opportunity to preserve the country’s unity and reassert its sovereignty,” she said, speaking via video link. 

Guns silenced, civilians protected 

Ms. Williams recalled that the historic truce for Libya was reached in Geneva on 23 October, where a Joint Military Commission, comprising representatives from  the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), “set their differences aside and, guided by their patriotic spirit, responded to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.” 

The agreement provides for the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from the frontlines, as well as for mercenaries and foreign fighters to depart Libya, within 90 days. 

With the ceasefire holding, UNSMIL has facilitated dialogue between the  GNA, located  in the west of the country, and the LNA, which holds power over larges areas in the east. 

The Joint Military Commission has developed terms for a ceasefire- monitoring mechanism, while a coastal road critical for travel and the transportation of goods has been reopened, and a prisoner exchange programme is ongoing. 

“The sharp decrease in the number of civilian casualties compared to the second quarter of 2020 is another reminder that when the guns are silenced, civilians are protected,” said Ms. Williams. 

Roadmap to elections 

Meanwhile, Libya is now back to producing oil following the lifting of a months-long blockade, and a project to unify and restructure forces protecting petroleum facilities is underway. 

Ms. Williams convened the parties in Tunis last week, paving the start of political dialogue. The 75 participants, 16 of them women, represented Libya’s main geographical, social and political constituencies.  The outcome was a political roadmap that includes elections on 24 December 2021, the 70th anniversary of Libya’s independence. 

“Libyans have made it clear. Organization of presidential and parliamentary elections is their demand and must be our common objective,” she said. 

No time for complacency 

However, the top UN official warned “there is no time for complacency” as the situation in Libya remains volatile. 

Although the Joint Military Commission seeks to operationalize the ceasefire agreement, the sides have yet to withdraw their forces, while arrangements for the distribution of oil revenues will depend on progress on the political track. 

Ms. Williams also urged the international community to fully respect and support the various agreements made by the parties, stating “This Council has tools at its disposal including to prevent obstructionists from jeopardizing this rare opportunity to restore peace in Libya. I call on you to use them.” 

In his address to the Council, Libya’s UN Ambassador,  Taher Al-Sunni, emphasized several points for the current political dialogues to succeed, such as the need for a binding resolution to support what the Libyans agree on in their various dialogues. 

Mr. Al-Sunni also spoke out against foreign intervention in his country. 

“We call on the Security Council and international community to take this opportunity and to show goodwill by supporting the will of the Libyan people and their right to self-determination; not to use Libya as a way to settle scores”, he said, speaking through an interpreter. 

Security and shared prosperity 

While optimistic about Libya’s future, Ms. Williams said she remains “clear-eyed” about the challenges that lie ahead. 

“Ten years of war cannot be solved in one week of political talks, but we hear more now the language of peace rather than the language of war,” she told ambassadors. 

“Only shared responsibility, nurtured by patriotism and love of the country, can lead to the shared security and prosperity for which so many Libyans yearn.  Libyans deserve, if not the support, then at least the non-interference of the main international actors as they seek to forge a sovereign political path forward for future Libyan generations.”

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