The Middle East Channel

Kerry meets with Netanyahu to prod peace talks

Meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "concerned" about negotiations with the Palestinians and hoped that Kerry could help get the peace process back on track. Netanyahu claimed, "I see the Palestinians continuing with incitement, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace." Palestinians have also suggested no progress had been made in negotiations and have raised concerns after Israel announced plans for the construction of thousands of additional settlement homes in the West Bank. Despite the divides, Kerry said he is confident that with "real compromise and hard decisions" the parties can reach a peace deal. Kerry is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and then again with Netanyahu.


U.N. and Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi announced a further delay for a Geneva peace conference after U.S. and Russian officials failed to agree on a date. After meetings Tuesday, Brahimi said, "We were hoping we'd be in a position to announce a date today, unfortunately we're not." He continued that they hope to hold the conference by the end of the year. The parties remain split over Iranian participation in peace talks, the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and who would represent the opposition. Brahimi mentioned that the opposition is divided, saying, "They are facing all types of problems and they are not ready." Meanwhile, an explosion Wednesday in the center of the Syrian capital of Damascus killed up to eight people and injured 50 others. Reports are conflicting over whether the explosion was caused by a bomb -- an improvised explosive device planted at an office entrance -- or a mortar shell. On Tuesday, a mortar shell hit the Vatican Embassy in Damascus, however no casualties were reported.


Arguments & Analysis

Modest Mission? The U.S. Plan to Build a Libyan Army' (Frederic Wehrey, Foreign Affairs)

"Both the Libyan government and outside supporters must recognize that Libya's security issues are fundamentally political problems. Better training and equipment will not automatically confer legitimacy on the new army, compel militias to surrender their arms, or entice Libyans to join up. That legitimacy will be obtained through a broad political reconciliation under the auspices of the recently announced National Dialogue, a functioning parliament, a constitution, and an equitable judicial system -- and by a government that is able to deliver services across the country

Given resource constraints and Washington's reasonable aversion to putting boots on the ground, the training of the general purpose force might seem like an appropriate level of U.S. engagement in Libya. Still, if the United States doesn't want to leave the country worse off, it should think very carefully about that force's composition, mission, and oversight before the program begins. It must also heed those who argue that the mission should be accompanied by broader assistance designed to help Libya work through the economic and political challenges that underlie its insecurity." 

Egypt's Others' (Jasmin Fritzsche, Sada)

"Egypt's armed forces appear to be leading a revival of Egyptian nationalism since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi. The civic state with equal rights for all citizens, the respect for Egypt's security institutions, and the prominence of national security are central themes for the interim government. As with every such sentiment, this re-emerging nationalism only functions in opposition to an ‘other.' Due to recent political developments, the Muslim Brotherhood takes on the role of this other in the eyes of the current government and other pro-military institutions. This perception is also based on the alleged links between Morsi and the Syrian opposition as well as the Palestinian organization Hamas. Amplifying those links -- and the alleged support of Syrian and Palestinian nationals for the Muslim Brotherhood -- not only led to the de-nationalization of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, but also created a strong anti-Syrian and anti-Palestinian sentiment in Egypt. This has resulted in a major change to the asylum policy regarding Syrian refugees, among other measures. Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Egypt have become a pawn in the government's fight against the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Syrians arriving in Egypt were not subject to visa restrictions and were allowed privileged rights, such as access to the public school and health system, they now need to apply for a visa prior to their arrival. Palestinians fleeing the Syrian conflict, however, never had the possibility of being registered as refugees; they face a protection gap in Egypt resulting from the exclusion from the 1951 Refugee Convention and the lack of a UNRWA mandate, and are therefore vulnerable to the arbitrariness of Egyptian state policies. Within the last four months, hundreds fleeing the conflict in Syria have been rejected at Cairo Airport, while others already residing in Egypt, face ongoing threat of deportation and detention in poor conditions."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

Diplomats meet in Geneva to discuss Syrian peace conference

U.S. and Russian officials have met in Geneva with U.N. and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for talks aimed at paving the way for the long-delayed Geneva II peace conference on Syria. They will be joined by the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, France, and China -- as well as Syria's neighboring countries -- Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey. Brahimi said he hopes to convene the conference "in the next few weeks, not next year." However, the meetings have come just after Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi reasserted President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to remain in office, saying "we will not go to Geneva to hand over power." Syria's main opposition coalition maintains it would only participate in the conference if the aim is a political transition away from Assad. Additionally the parties are divided over Iran's involvement in the proposed talks. Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council Monday that about 40 percent of the Syrian population, 9.3 million people, need humanitarian assistance due to the two and half year civil war. The Syrian government committed Monday to deliver humanitarian aid and vaccinations across the country, as concerns increase over a polio outbreak in the northeast. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, tasked with overseeing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, has reported it only has sufficient funding to maintain operations through November. The organization will need to raise tens to hundreds of millions of dollars for the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpile slated for 2014.


Arguments and Analysis

'The Trials' (Timothy E. Kaldas, Mada Masr)

"It cannot be denied that Morsi and the Brotherhood played a substantial role in arriving at this catastrophic point in their political history. I do not agree that this counter-revolutionary coup was inevitable and in the works from day one without the Brotherhood having any recourse available to prevent it. And I do not mean to suggest that Morsi was pursuing the goals or interests of the revolution. However the coup that took place on July 3, in spite of its popularity, had as a central goal of its architects the re-establishment of the power of the police state and military regime. This is clear from the reports emerging of intimidation of Cabinet members seeking rapprochement with the Brotherhood, and the emphasis of the Interior Ministry and certain generals on pursuing a violent and vengeful crackdown on the Brotherhood. The 25 January uprising began as a demonstration against police brutality and today the police kill protesters with impunity. Human Rights Watch has clearly demonstrated that police have used excessive deadly force on protesters repeatedly and switch to live ammunition with little to no warning.

The sad truth is that the very nature of the Brotherhood's structure and organizational history set it up, as much as the security apparatus, to fail and be vulnerable to such a demise. The same features that allowed the Brotherhood to survive decades of repression made it fail as a political party in a competitive political environment. Had the Brotherhood followed through with its promise to collaborate with opposition parties and build a coalition government from the outset it would have been much more difficult for the military and security apparatus to seize the state so flagrantly as they did on July 3. Had Morsi as president worked towards a consensual constitution rather than force his down the throats of the opposition and the Egyptian people he would have had far more sympathizers among Egypt's remaining revolutionaries."

'Syria's Assault on Doctors' (Annie Sparrow, The New York Review of Books - Blog)

"The Assad regime has come to view doctors as dangerous, their ability to heal rebel fighters and civilians in rebel-held areas a weapon against the government. Over the past two and a half years, doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists who provide treatment to civilians in contested areas have been arrested and detained; paramedics have been tortured and used as human shields, ambulances have been targeted by snipers and missiles; medical facilities have been destroyed; the pharmaceutical industry devastated. Directly and indirectly, the attacks have had a profound effect on tens of thousands of health professionals and millions of Syrian patients, let alone the more than 2 million refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

Here is how a surgeon from Aleppo describes the attitude of the Syrian government. Last April, while treating a man seriously wounded by a government sniper, he was accosted and wrenched away by a military intelligence officer: ‘We are shooting at them in order to kill them. This is obvious,' the intelligence officer told him. ‘Since you are stopping him from dying, you are a terrorist. For this you will be punished.' The surgeon's clinic was destroyed, his wife's clinic was shut down, and they were forced to flee Aleppo. As a surgeon, he is not authorized to practice in Turkey, where they have taken refuge, despite the urgent need of his skills there."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber