Focal Points Blog

800-Pound Gorilla Straggles After Israeli Protesters

At his blog South Jerusalem, Gershom Gorenberg writes:

The question of the week last week was: Would the protests fade or grow? … On Saturday night, the moment I got to downtown Jerusalem, I knew: The previous week’s demonstrations had been a warm-up act. … The crowd couldn’t fit into Paris Square near Bibi Netanyahu’s official residence anymore. The river had burst its banks.

Even more encouraging

The torrent swept away the feeling of every Israeli for years, that it’s me … who can’t get by, can’t work enough to pay enough, can’t remember what it felt like to feel good here. … I think that any reporting of what’s happening in Israel that doesn’t include the shocked reborn ebullience of the crowd has missed something.

In response, Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu,

… told Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, the head of the panel of experts who will talk with protest leaders, that he understood it was necessary to change economic policy. But Trajtenberg went further, telling Netanyahu he had to change his fundamental positions. Netanyahu agreed and said he had read a new book about how Herzl [considered the father of the state of Israel – RW] adapted himself to changing circumstances.

Trajtenberg reportedly said (Reportedly? Did he or didn’t he, Haaretz?):

We must leverage this protest for real change, it’s burning in my bones.

Up to this point, protesters have been careful to avoiding touching a couple of issues with a ten-foot pole. But for real change to occur, the 800-pound gorilla needs to be led to the center of the protests and allowed to grunt, belch, roar, and beat his chest with his fist full of manifestoes. First up, government spending on homes for the settlers as opposed to the rest of the public. Haaretz again:

The leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements … know it is only a question of time before Peace Now [the prominent Israeli peace movement currently urging a boycott of settlements – RW] and … the media remind people without homes of their own just how many housing units the Housing and Construction Ministry has built in the West Bank, compared to the extent of public construction in all other areas.

Once that dam has been breached, justice for Palestinians, especially the siege of Gaza, will roil the waters further. The protests, as hopeful and joyous as they’ve been, could turn into an angry torrent, full of treacherous cross-currents.

The Defense Industry: The Albatross Hanging From the Neck of America’s Economy

Cross-posted from Other Words.

India has the military-industrial complex all figured out. So does Saudi Arabia. Neither of them has one. Who needs to build weapons when you can simply buy them at a discount elsewhere? Not that anyone really needs so many weapons anyway, but it’s still a lot cheaper to tap the competitive arms market for a few specific items than to build a massive infrastructure to keep churning out whole arsenals for yourself.

So God bless the Indians and the Saudis. They’re smarter than we. We can’t stop cranking out aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, bombers, tanks, aerial refuelers, phosphorous bombs, nuclear devices, rockets, and other must-have military consumer goods that are driving us to the poorhouse. It’s a lot like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We don’t know how to stop.

Up until now this was not a big worry. Weapons manufacturers have historically pulled a lot of strings in Congress, and there are usually plenty of votes that can be traded to protect every state’s pet products. But now signs of nervousness are showing up at the edges of the debate. Those crazy Republicans brought the nation to the edge of default. No one thinks the GOP gives a fig about either default or excessive military spending, but in their posturing Republican lawmakers may have unleashed something they can’t control.

Read the rest at Other Words.

Must Be an Oversight: Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Debbie Schlussel Left Off Domestic Extremist List

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

One of Pamela Geller’s cohorts, Debbie Schlussel, has explicitly stated that those killed at Utoya got what was coming to them because they were “HAMAS Youth” and (at the same time) “Fatah PLO” terrorists.

Schlussel may not be as well-known as Geller (perhaps because Schlussel has not exercised a leading role in anything as prominent as the “Ground Zero Mosque” furor), but she is a politically active Republican and more mainstream than Geller because she is also a culture writer with a strong media presence. (Not that she separates this work from her anti-Islamic campaign — she has criticized the film industry for not doing enough to portray Islam “correctly”).

Her opinion on the Norway terror attacks can be summed up with these quotes taken from her ongoing screeds against the terror victims:

Based on these pics, seems like he’s [Glenn Beck’s] spot on, though he should have added, HAMAS Youth camp, too. As we all know, Nazis boycotted Jews and were Jew-killers. And these hateful, privileged brats at the camp boycotted Jews and sided with Jew-killers.

But what goes around comes around. You support terrorists against innocent civilians in Israel, then you get attacked by terrorists who are upset with your support. …

Frankly, the HAMAS charter and HAMAS’ behavior, all of which these kids at the Norwegian HAMAS youth camp cheered on, is a lot more scary than the screed and deeds of Breivik. …

I shed no tears for these HAMASnik campers with a Scandinavian dialect. Perpetrators are not victims. Sorry. HAMAS collaborators don’t get my pity. They never will.

Far stronger words than Geller was willing to use. But they are par for the course as far as Schlussel is concerned.

Her prominence derives from her utility to the male conservative-dominated anti-Islamic movement. The fact that she is a woman (and also the daughter of Holocaust survivors) speaking out against Islam gives greater credence to an ideological group whose most well-known speakers are white Christian males like Newt Gingrich, Geert Wilders and Pat Robertson (the movement is, as a whole, dominated by sociopolitically conservative men, although many are not Christians).

Gingrich and Robertson, for instance, denounce Islamic attitudes towards women, while still being hostile to “feminism” under the cloak of “family values.” Having women on their anti-Islamic bandwagon helps prove their “point” about Islamic backwardness and their moral righteousness, which is a combination of faux-progressivism (treating Geller and Schlussel as intellectual co-equals) and paternalism (evoking Orientalist images of rapacious Muslim brutes). A similar logic animates the GOP embrace of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Michele Bachmann. Schlussel and Geller, among others, are useful for the right (while at the same time, they castigate individuals on the left for being Islam’s “useful idiots”).

But back to Schlussel’s own anti-Islamic agenda. Before this most recent denunciation of insufficiently Zionist individuals, she famously responded to Osama bin Laden’s death by quipping “1 down, 1.8 billion to go.” When a family of West Bank settlers were murdered earlier this year, she approvingly quoted PM Netanyahu’s son’s remarks that “terror has a religion and it is Islam” and “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”

Schlussel is an ardent Zionist — Hamas and Fatah are basically the same thing, in her analysis, and are dedicated to ending Israel forever. With this in mind, few individuals or institutions are pro-Israel enough for her: Republican Governor Chris Christie, for instance, is “Hamas GOP” because he appointed Pakistani-American Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim attorney who defended individuals (including Hamas supporters) that the federal government sought to extradite from the U.S. after 9/11, to the NJ State Supreme Court. Whole Foods is “anti-Israel” because it sells fair trade products from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and has dared to wish its customers a good Ramadan (there is ill-intent behind this marketing ploy, of course). And, like Robert Spencer and Pat Robertson, she believes that mainstream media is “anti-American” (and thus, anti-Western) and panders to Islam because it is anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-Western.

Both Congressmen Ron Paul (who has called for a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East and an end to the US$3 billion in aid Washington sends Israel annually) and Dennis Kucinich (who condemned the Israeli assault on the first Freedom Flotilla) are “for” Hamas, according to Schlussel. That a libertarian who caucuses with the GOP and one of the most lefit-wing members of the Democratic Party are somehow colluding to advance Hamas’s agenda is well within the realm of possibility for Schlussel: either you are with Israel (and the West — which, by extension, means you’re “with” civilization), or against it. For Schlussel, no Muslim can ever be “for” those things.

As Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch asked in its coverage of her work, why did Schlussel even bother saying that she doesn’t support Anders Breivik when she says that “I can’t feel sorry for those who support my would-be assassins. And I don’t get too upset when they face the karma that is their fate.”

The author would like to thank Mondoweiss’s readers for bringing Schlussel’s response to his attention.

Because Schlussel et al are not treated as domestic extremists by the FBI – in fact, the FBI has even produced training materials that echo and endorse their claims about “Islam” – we need to spotlight their influence.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

UN Origins Project Series, Part 3: The Author’s First Foray Into the UN Archives

UNIOThis past week I traveled up to New York City to begin looking through the UN Archives for information on the wartime activities of the United Nations Information Organization. The UN Archives are housed in a nondescript building about a block and a half from the iconic UN Plaza. I entered through an innocuous side door that looked more like a service entrance than a gateway to knowledge. However, once inside I was greeted by the familiar sights and sounds of a library: small tables set up in a quiet reading room, other researchers hunched over stacks of documents, the archivists conducting their business in hushed tones. Unlike a library, however, there were few materials that I could get for myself. Rather, I had to request materials from the archivist on duty.

I had been in contact with one of the archivists prior to my arrival and he ensured that my first foray into the archival wilderness in search of information would be successful. He provided me with a detailed index of the UNIO files – which proved invaluable – and showed me how to make my requests and turned me loose.

Going in, I had been told that it was very likely that I would be the first person to look at and handle these documents since they were committed to the UN Archives over 60 years ago. Judging from how haphazardly documents had been arranged in seemingly arbitrary boxes, I quickly realized that this was likely the case. Many of the pages were faded and I had to be careful not to rip the flimsy onionskin paper.

Sifting through the contents of the UNIO files I came across the original draft of the resolution that formally created the UNIO offices in New York and London, along with a memorandum that amounted to a mission statement for the new organization. I was exhilarated at this find. Not only because they were particularly important documents that would help with my work, but also because I knew that I held in my hands documents whose existence had changed the history of the entire world.

The creation of the UNIO was the first step the Allied powers took towards turning back and defeating the Axis. It served stark warnings to the Axis powers that their crimes would not go unpunished. It helped galvanize the American people into action as the defenders of liberty. It encouraged those straining against the fascist yoke to not give up the fight, that help was on the way.

Reading through these founding documents, the vision of a world united behind a single banner fighting against oppression came into clear focus. The creation of the UNIO was not merely the first step on the long journey towards victory in World War II; it was the first step towards securing a lasting peace when the guns fell silent. I held history in my hands. And it is a history that preciously too few are aware of.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

UN Origins Project Series, Part 2: The Importance of Information in Wartime

“The United Nations Information Organization (UNIO) was the first international agency of the Allied powers participating in World War II and was also the first Organization to incorporate in its title the ‘United Nations’ name.” It was constituted in September 1940, nearly two years before the Declaration by United Nations, as the Inter-Allied Information Committee, a clearinghouse for disseminating information and propaganda about the war effort. Indeed, from a very early stage, the Allied powers realized the role information would play in their fight against the Axis.

The importance of information to the successful prosecution of the war is encapsulated in an early inter-organization memorandum entitled, “A Suggested Information Technique for the United Nations.” Indeed, the memorandum is a succinct statement of intent and purpose for the newly formed UNIO.

The memorandum highlights several key aspects in which the successful dissemination of information by the Allied powers will assist in the war effort.

The first is to raise the morale of those peoples under attack or suffering under Axis occupation and assure them that help is on the way. With the United Nations in its infancy and the likelihood that a significant period of time will elapse before the Allied powers are able to turn the tide against the Axis, it becomes imperative that those suffering not become disillusioned over their struggle and believe that the UN will be the agent of their deliverance.

Second is the need to counter the strong isolationist sentiments in the United States and engage the populace in the international struggle against totalitarianism. Indeed, in the years leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, politicians engaged in fervent debate over America’s role in the war. Many argued against entangling the United States in a European conflict. President Roosevelt, among others, realized that the current conflict was rooted in the failure to secure a lasting postwar peace following World War I. In order to prevent future conflict, Roosevelt recognized the need to develop a stable international structure, a structure in which the United States would play an integral role. To galvanize the American people into action, they must realize that the American values of freedom and liberty are, in fact, universal, and in extraordinary times, require a strong and resolute protector.

Finally, the knowledge that an implacable international force has gathered to oppose and fight them will demoralize the Axis powers, and further encourage resistance. Indeed, when members of the Axis see and comprehend the full extent of the powers arrayed against them, they will realize that theirs is a doomed struggle.

From a very early stage, the Allies realized that winning the information war would be essential to their eventual success. It would galvanize support at home, while encouraging those abroad not to give up the fight; that help was on the way. As the first international organization convened under the newly formed United Nations, the UNIO would prove to be invaluable to the Allied war effort.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

Bibi’s Mind in Action: “Housing Crisis? I Have Just the Thing!”

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

Well, that’s one way to address the housing crisis in Israel today: build 930 more houses . . . in East Jerusalem.

I can just see Bibi saying to a Cabinet minister: “Housing crisis? I have just the thing!”

Absolutely brilliant (no, really, it is — well, kind of, at least in that self-defeating way we’ve come to know and love from Bibi and friends).

The sooner you get the settler protesters out of their tents (the cry of “To your tents, O Israel!” has never boded well for Jewish rulers) and back to the Occupied Territories, the less chance there is that they will turn on you in elections and — Herzel forbid — vote for Labour or something crazy like that. Class solidarity is a terrifying thing for a government built on a different kind of solidarity altogether.

Although it would be a really ungrateful thing for said settlers to do that when right and center-right dominated governments have spent twice as much on the average settler in the Occupied Territories as they do on the average Israeli citizen living in, say, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Haifa or Acre.

Building new settlements to resolve the housing crisis brings to mind the image of an Ouroboros, aka, the serpent that eats its own tail (one worth US$17 billion, to be precise). And, truthfully, it’s just more of the same. It’s not a new tactic, but it’s a tried and true method for garnering support (and “facts on the ground” for legitimizing the settlements, which are illegal under international law).

As two +972 Magazine bloggers writing in the NYT note, the roots of this housing crisis lie in decisions made during the 1990s (you know, back when Israeli governments said they were seriously considering giving the Palestinians their own “state”) to increase government subsidies for settlement housing over public housing projects within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. This encouraged Israelis — ardent Zionists and otherwise — to move to East Jerusalem and other destinations in the Occupied Territories (so that de facto annexation would precede — and justify — eventual de jure annexation).

I don’t praise Bibi’s genius enough, I really don’t. One, it makes more housing available (though only a certain number of demonstrators would probably want to live in them) and two, it makes East Jerusalem even more “fundamentally” part of Israel. What more could the Israeli right ask for?

(Well, a lot, but you get the idea.)

Microbloggers Push the Envelope of Free Expression in China

Wenzhou train crash

Wenzhou train crash

On July 23, two high-speed trains that the government had touted as the most advanced in the world collided near the coastal city of Wenzhou in eastern China, an accident that left 40 people dead and 191 injured, according to official tally. The officials claimed that a serious design flaw in signaling equipment was the major cause of the tragedy after originally claiming that lightning disrupted the system.

Within hours of the accident, the Central Propaganda Department, the Information Office, and other governmental agencies jointly issued directions to journalists on how to and what to report. This kind of governmental intention to cover up incidents that may unveil officials’ scandals is not new to anyone familiar with the Chinese state control of social media. However, what is different this time is that Chinese citizens are able to use Twitter-like microblog (“weibo” in Chinese pinyin) to carry out public debates and voice their discontent with governmental mismanagement and lack of transparency.

This is the second wave of serious public discontent with the state’s authoritative practices of the year after the Arab Spring-inspired call for a “Jasmine Revolution” in mainland China in March.

Reporters arriving on the scene the day after the accident found state-employed crews busy burying the wrecked carriages in the mud, as if to conceal the evidence. Rescue workers seemed to be more interested in restoring rail service than in rescuing wounded passengers. The official death toll was thought to be highly volatile and not to be trusted, and many suspect that a cover-up was underway from the commencement of the relief efforts.

Wang Qinglei, producer of China Central Television (CCTV)’s 24 Hours, was fired after criticizing the government in the state media outlet.

On July 26, law firms in Wenzhou received an “urgent document” from the Wenzhou Judicial Bureau and the Wenzhou Lawyers’ Association ordering the lawyers to “report to the judicial bureau and lawyers’ association immediately after the injured passengers and families of the deceased in the accident come for legal help.” It also stated that lawyers “shouldn’t respond and handle the cases in an unauthorized manner,” as “the accident is a major sensitive issue concerning social stability.”

It took Premier Wen Jiabao, who frequently arrives at disaster-stricken areas in China to make commitments on behalf of the government, six days to visit the accident scene, whereupon he pledged a greater focus on rail safety and a “transparent” investigation into the accident. Wen claimed that he was seriously ill. However, a look at his activities suggests that he had been attending State Council meetings, a climate change workshop, and meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the six-day period.

In the past, the state was able to promptly eradicate almost any politically sensitive content on the Internet, but now the Chinese microblog users have found a counter-measure to voice their opinions.

Unlike conventional posting online, microblog posts spread faster than censors can react, making posting politically sensitive contents beyond easy control. Another factor making controlling microblogs a delicate matter is their mushrooming popularity ever since they were introduced to the mainland last year. According to the China Internet Network Information Center estimate, the number of registered microblog users surged by 208.9 percent in the first half of this year, hitting 195 million by the end of June.

Shortly after the train accident and the original official allegation that the tragedy was caused by a disruptive lightning storm, a microblogger wrote, “When a country is so corrupt that one lightning strike can cause a train crash … none of us is immune. China today is a train rushing through a lightning storm … we are all passengers.”

The state gradually acknowledged that strong public dissent was only on the rise, as manifested in angry microblog posts, and that covering up or circumventing the issue would be counterproductive at best. Despite initial official mandate on reporting per the official voice, the state-owned Xinhua news agency released a report titled How Did the Major Disaster on July 23 Happen?, raising many difficult and even strident questions about the train accident. On July 28, the judicial bureau of Wenzhou posted an official document on their website apologizing for “lax supervision” over the Wenzhou Lawyers’ Association, which mandated Wenzhou law firms not to handle cases involving the July 23 train clash in an “unauthorized manner.” As of July 30, 10 families have agreed to settle for a compensation of $143,000 per deceased family member, nearly double the originally proposed $78,000.

Qian Gang of the University of Hong Kong discovered that Chinese newspapers on July 29 reached nearly the same depth of reporting and criticism of the incident as their counterparts in Hong Kong, where information regarding accidents is promptly disclosed for public scrutiny.

“Microblogs provided a platform for civic debate on the governmental handling of the train accident, but their influence have been overlooked by many governmental officials,” said Professor Xie Yungeng at Shanghai Communications University. Xie also added that “Some officials don’t even know what microblogs are. They lack an awareness of new media. They are too arrogant to care.”

This Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s flagship newspaper, published an article titled How to communicate with masses in microblog era (in English), urging officials to respond to Internet users in a timely fashion and not to evade difficult questions.

On the same day, the State Council and the CCP Central Committee jointly ordered increased transparency in governmental handling of major accidents.

Among the Chinese public, the “appetite for the truth” is looming large. Microblogging provides one such venue for the people to question the wrongdoing of the authority, as well as to share opinions and carry out debates on issues of public concern. With the emergence of microblogs as China’s watchdog service, the Chinese authorities should realize that more openness might be conducive to the Party’s first and foremost goal of maintaining social stability.

Obama’s Approach to Disarmament as Self-Sabotaging as Debt-Ceiling Deal

During the debt-ceiling siege, the Obama administration not only cast its lot with the Republicans on spending cuts, but agreed to refrain from increasing the tax rate for the rich. As if that weren’t enough, it conceded closing tax loopholes (in effect, giving the rich license to continue breaking the letter of the law). Then, as if the guiding principle of negotiating hadn’t already been turned on its head, the Obama administration began driving its head into the floor when it offered to push back the age for Medicare and make the cost of living adjustments for Social Security stingier. Bear in mind, this was all in the service of raising the debt ceiling, which, in the past, was often rubber-stamped with no need for Congressional approval.

We see a similar pattern on the part of the Obama administration in its approach to disarmament. For instance, it proposed massive amounts of money — $85 billion over 10 years — to maintain and modernize America’s nuclear program. This was intended as a means to convince Republican senators to ratify New START, a treaty whose cuts to disarmament were token to the point that it serves as more of a confidence building measure with Russia (yeah, after all these years, the United States and Russia is still trying to get its relationship off the ground).

Of course, the Obama administration’s wish to fund the nuclear program more extravagantly than the Bush administration may have been genuine. It seems equally likely that, in its heart, it aspires to cut spending and social services programs (however helpful it believes it would be to its long-term plans according to its increasingly tortuous thought process).

But, roughly paralleling Republican rejection of the proposal to cut social services programs because it wasn’t totally devoid of raising taxes, back on June 15, reported Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, Republicans (as well as Democrats) in the House of Representatives cut “the funds that the Obama administration had pledged for [nuclear] upgrades and modernization. The House Appropriations subcommittee that approves funding of the weapons complex, run by the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), just whacked almost $500 million from the weapons program.”

Then, this past Wednesday, August 3, reports Global Security Newswire:

An Obama administration proposal to dramatically increase nuclear weapons funding in coming years has little chance of proceeding under a newly negotiated deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, lawmakers and independent specialists said. [The deal] calls for relatively small reductions over the next 12 months, but it would require $350 billion in military-related funding cuts over the next decade. … With the agreement in force, President Obama and his successors will have difficulty adhering to the 10-year, $85 billion nuclear weapons complex spending plan unveiled by the White House in November, said Kingston Reif, an expert with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. In addition, failure to enact additional budget reductions to be negotiated by a special congressional panel would result in further major cuts to defense spending, which the deal defines to include the Energy Department agency responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

If the Obama administration truly cared about disarmament, rejection of the compromises it offered the Republicans as, in effect, too much of a good thing, would be mortifying. It would be taken as a sign that it should do some soul searching and revise its timid approach to disarmament. (Arms control staff, no doubt trying to make the best of a bad situation, such as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller, excepted.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans know that in better economic times (one can dream, can’t he?), it can prevail upon President Easy Mark, or his Democratic successors, to re-allocate those funds to the National Nuclear Security Agency.

UN Origins Project Series, Part 1: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged a Peace

This project builds on the recently published book, America, Hitler and the UN: How the Allies Won World II and Forged a Peace, by Dan Plesch, the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy. The project intends to show how the United Nations was born in 1942, defeated the Axis Powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan, created today’s UN system and gave rise to a stable and peaceful post-war international system. America, Britain and the Soviet Union led a coalition of states organised as the United Nations to respond to the greatest crisis in human history. Contrary to the commonly held origin story of the United Nations, Bretton Woods and San Francisco were United Nations conferences, convened by interim United Nations organisations, which preceded the Charter.

Understanding the wartime United Nations reframes our understanding of the second half of the last century and of our own. From UNESCO to the World Bank the primary purpose of the multilateral system is conflict prevention; a system bequeathed to us by its wartime architects as a realist necessity, vital in times of trial, not as a liberal accessory to be discarded when the going gets rough.

The project leaders are interested in developing partnerships with other researchers and organizations on the implications of the wartime United Nations (WUN) for contemporary international policy and U.S. politics in particular and in its relationship to IR theory, the archaeology, genealogy and historiography of the study of international politics since 1945, and the impact of the WUN on the campaigns and politics of the Second World War.

Please see the CISD website for more details on the project, its members and its activities.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

Doha Peace Agreement: Khartoum and the Rebel Groups’ Moment of Truth

In June, Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman displayed cautious optimism when he called the Doha Peace Talks to reach a peaceful agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur’s rebel groups a step in the right direction. On July 14, 2011, Khartoum and some of the major rebel groups in the Northern half of Darfur, including the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and Abdul-Wahid Mohamed Nur faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), officially signed the document these talks produced. After nine years of genocidal civil war and thirty months of dialogue, the situation is still less than ideal. In spite of this, the implementation of a peace agreement will finally begin. How much of a cause for celebration this is will become clear in the weeks and months to come.

In accord with the signed agreement, local governance is being returned to the people of Darfur – even those rebel groups that denounce violent resistance and join the fold. This includes leadership postings. Former rebels will occupy positions such as the chairmanship of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the assistant and advisor to the DRA, ministerial positions (the latter three to be held by LJM members), as well as a gubernatorial position in one of the new states being established in the region. In addition, the LJM will hold 17 of the 67 seats in the new DRA Council that will act as a parliamentary body to assist the DRA implement the peace agreement. Among those 17 positions is the Council vice-chairperson. Abdul-Aziz Adam, Commander of the Bedouins and Routes Alliance forces that signed its own agreement with the government shortly after LJM signed on to the Doha agreement, says:

This is a great opportunity to achieve the comprehensive peace in Darfur. The signing of the Doha agreement, with a great support of our people in Darfur and the international community, avails the chance for the realization of peace in the region according to the aspirations of its people…

Not all of the parties in the Darfur conflict are willing to sign on to division of authority prescribed in this agreement. Still noticeably absent are the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as well as the Nur and Minnawi factions of the SLA that continue their military struggle in the southern part of Darfur. Though provisions exist in the document that would award JEM government positions should they put down their arms, these groups argue that the agreement does not meet their needs and that the government in Khartoum cannot be negotiated with on principle. They seek to not only achieve reforms in Darfur but to instigate regime change that will finally topple the power of President Omar al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP).

Khartoum vows to continue its fight against those groups reluctant to cooperate with what it vows is the “final document.” The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have begun bombing villages in South Darfur in an effort likely to pressure those rebel groups refusing to buckle and submit. Typical of Sudanese military-political strategy, civilians are caught directly in the crossfire.

The implementation of this peace agreement should be used as a barometer of many things. First and foremost, Khartoum now has the opportunity to prove that it can be taken at its word. Should the NCP allow the peace agreement to help the rebel groups who put down their weapons and bring stability to the people of North Darfur, it will prove to onlookers that it is seriously interested in honest cooperation and creating what Special Envoy Lyman calls an “enabling environment” for open political dialogue that is currently missing the in the region. The other groups in Darfur might consider ending their fight and coming into the fold as well. South Sudan could be encouraged to work more cooperatively with Khartoum to make progress on border disputes and oil revenue sharing.

As lofty as the upsides of cooperation are, the consequences of a disappointment are just as extreme. If the NCP allows the Doha agreement to become a meaningless piece of paper, all semblance of regional trust could be destroyed. By proving that a zebra cannot change its stripes, the rebel groups and regional players will be even more skeptical about accepting Khartoum’s olive branches in the future. Regional conflict and suffering would be sure to deepen, as would the international isolation of Bashir’s regime. As it becomes clearer that carrot and stick calculations do not faze the Sudanese government, ending the humanitarian crises it incites becomes a difficult paradox to solve. All have much to gain from making good on this step forward. All have much to lose.

Adam Cohen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

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