Archive | May 30th, 2013

U.S.-backed Syrian rebels reportedly massacre Christian village

An FSA soldier in Aleppo
An FSA soldier in Aleppo

Members of the Free Syrian Army reportedly attacked the Christian-dominated al-Duvair village in Reutskirts of Homs on Monday, where they massacred its citizens, including women and children, before the Syrian Army interfered.

This reported attack comes shortly after intense fighting in the city of al-Qusseir over the weekend, in which Bashar Al-Assad’s forces inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels.

Assad’s forces launched an offensive in April in an effort to cut off supply lines to the rebels by taking the city and its surrounding areas from the rebel groups that had been entrenched there since last year. Two weeks ago, the Syrian forces reached the center of the city

While the sources describing Monday’s massacre are supportive of Assad, it’s possible that it occurred since the rebel groups fighting the Assad regime are composed mainly of members of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliated groups and have committed war crimes and atrocities in the past.

Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of al-Qaeda that fought and killed American and allied troops in Iraq, have positioned themselves in Syria and control the rebel movement.

The U.S. and other Western governments that are backing the FSA have acknowledged the presence of jihadists but insist that they’re only a small part of the rebel movement. However, al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups have been at the front of the rebel movement since day one of the Syrian war that began two years ago. According to German intelligence, 95 percent of the rebels aren’t even Syrian.

“Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of,” the New York Times reported last month.

In April, Abou Mohamad al-Joulani, the head of al-Nusra, pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahri, the head of al-Qaeda.

Members of the FSA have admitted that their plan is to institute sharia law, and the rebels now have a brigade named the Osama bin Laden Brigade.

Despite the evidence of al-Qaeda connections, the U.S. government continues to support the FSA.

Last week, Sens. Robert Menendez, D.-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., drafted a bill that, if passed, would directly arm the Syrian rebels with lethal weaponry. The U.S. government has so far only provided non-lethal supplies and humanitarian aid.

On Monday, Sen. John McCain made a surprise visit to Syria where he met with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the FSA. McCain has also called for arming the rebels as well as direct U.S. military intervention in the war.

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The CIA’s Program to Spread Polio in Pakistan is Working


Two health-care workers were shot yesterday, one fatally, in Peshawar, Pakistan, leading the World Health Organization to suspend polio vaccinations there. Though no one has reportedly taken credit for the attack, it fits with an ongoing anti-vaccination terror campaign by the Pakistani Taliban, which believes health workers are agents of a western conspiracy. This belief is unfortunately not untrue.

For that, much of the credit goes to the Central Intelligence Agency, which staged a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign as part of—but not an integral or decisive part of—its effort to confirm that Osama bin Laden was in Abbotabad. An actual doctor and actual nurses were used as witting and unwitting agents of American intelligence, rather than agents of Pakistani public health. They gave incomplete doses of vaccine to local children, carrying out the sham just long enough for them to try (and apparently fail) to obtain DNA samples from the children in the compound where bin Laden was hiding.

This is not even a point of shame for the CIA. When the agency vetted the script for Zero Dark Thirty, it corrected story elements that it felt might inaccurately bring disrepute on it—insisting, for instance, that the widespread American tactic of using attack dogs to terrorize captives in American torture prisons not be shown, because the CIA technically had not used that particular tactic in its own torture prisons.

But the movie’s depiction of a fake vaccination campaign was left intact, even though it specifically and incorrectly suggested that it had been a campaign against polio, rather than hepatitis. The CIA regards the use of public-health workers in covert operations as clever “tradecraft,” suitable for the movies, because it is a monstrous and amoral entity guided by the proposition that non-American lives are not only less valuable than American lives, but less valuable than the transient logistical needs of the agency as it pursues various narrowly defined American power-interests.

The American public more or less agrees with this point of view, which is why no one from the CIA will ever be punished for anything it’s done in the War on Terror. The doctor from the bin Laden vaccination campaign, who stayed in the country where he practiced fraudulent medicine, is now in prison in Pakistan, over the protestations of the American government and press. Fortunately for average United States citizens, the ultimate victims of the CIA’s strategy will be children on the Pakistani frontier, who are unlikely to ever be in any position to pay us back for our crimes, especially if they’re paralyzed from polio infections.

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That time the Paris Mosque helped Jews escape the Nazis by giving them Muslim IDs


In “Paris” “shock me

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

Here’s one they left out of the history textbooks. A recent French film, Free Men, brought to light the remarkable true history of how Muslims gave sanctuary to French Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris during Second World War. An untold “Oscar Schindler” story, the film is inspired by actual events and in this case, our ‘Schindler’ is Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris until 1954.

Image (c) Alice Heartherb

Underneath the fortress of mosaics and tranquil gardens occupying an entire city block in the Latin Quarter, it is revealed the mosque’s underground caverns once served as a refuge for resistance fighters and French Jews, where they could be provided with certificates of Muslim identity. Meanwhile upstairs, Benghabrit, a wise Algerian-born religious and political leader, was giving tours of the mosque to Nazi officers and their wives, unaware of what was transpiring right under their feet.

Watch the trailer for Free Men below:


A North African Jewish man named Albert Assouline, who had escaped from a German prison camp, wrote about his experience hiding in the mosque:

“No fewer than 1,732 resistance fighters found refuge in its underground caverns. These included Muslim escapees but also Christians and Jews. The latter were by far the most numerous.”

Giving sanctuary for Jews was largely impulsive and did not result in an organised movement by the mosque, which is perhaps why historical records remain so bleary.  Some claim thousands of Jews were saved, others say it was in the dozens. In 2006, the current rector of the Paris Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, was interviewed by Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In Mr. Saltoff’s book, Among the Righteous, Boubakeur confirms that ’up to 100 Jews’ were likely given Muslim identity papers by the mosque and provides Saltoff with a copy of a typewritten 1940 Foreign Ministry document found in the French Archives, affirming the Nazi’s suspicion of mosque personnel providing false Muslim identities to Jews.

Veteran French actor Michael Lonsdale plays Benghabrit (c) Pyramide Productions

The most notable case of the mosque refuge was Simon Hilali, a Sephardic Jew who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be an Arab named Salim with the assistance of Benghrabit and later went on to become the most popular Arab-language singer of the time. According to Hilali’s obituary, Germans were so suspicious of the Jewish musician that Benghabrit had the name of Hilali’s made-up Muslim grandfather carved on a headstone in a Parisian Muslim cemetery.

I missed the film in the cinemas when it came out last year because I never heard about it’s release, but what an important message to miss out on. The film’s director is lobbying for it to be shown in schools. “It pays homage to the people of our history who have been invisible,” he told the New York Times. “It shows another reality, that Muslims and Jews existed in peace. We have to remember that — with pride.”

In case you’re interested in learning about something your text books couldn’t bring to your attention, the Free Men (Les Hommes Libres) is available to download on iTunes here.

via The New York Times

 Visiting la grande mosquée de Paris for Mint Tea at Twilight…


The mosque in the 5th arrondissement is host to one of the most pleasant cafés in Paris. With winding, leafy courtyards, this is a beautiful place to sip moroccan mint tea along with traditional arabic pastries on a sunny day. While it’s very popular, particular with Parisian families on Sunday afternoons, it’s not a place tourists are very aware of. It’s also open until midnight for tea under the stars while contemplating the fascinating history within its walls.

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‘Saudi Arabia Funds Mossad Anti-Iran Operations’

An article posted by a former CBS News editor claims that none other than Saudi Arabia helps fund Israeli Mossad operations against Iran.
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By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

An article posted by a former CBSNews producer Barry Lando claims that none other than Saudi Arabia helps fund Israeli Mossad operations against Iran.

“A Strange Alliance: Are the Saudis Bankrolling Israel’s Mossad?” appears on his blog. Lando’s source is named only as “a friend, with good sources in the Israeli government.”

He wrote, “The head of Israel’s Mossad has made several trips todeal with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia-one of the results: an agreement that the Saudis would bankroll the series of assassinations of several of Iran’s top nuclear experts that have occurred over the past couple of years.

“The amount involved, my friend claims, was $1 billion dollars. A sum, he says, the Saudis considered cheap for the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program.”

Lando admitted that “the tale sounds preposterous” but added, “On the other hand. it makes eminent sense. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30-second sound bites of presidential debates.”

Israel and Saudi Arabia have at least one thing in common: neither country wants to allow Ahmadinejad to obtain nuclear capability.

Lando noted that the claim of the strange alliance “also makes perfect sense, that, in retaliation for the cyber attacks on their centrifuges, the Iranians reportedly launched their own cyber attack on a Saudi state-owned target: Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company.”

Aramco’s computer system suffered a massive cyber attack in August, and American intelligence officials have blamed Iran.

“A report earlier this year by Tel Aviv University cites Saudi Arabia as the last hope and defense line for Israel,” Lando wrote. “With most of Israel’s traditional allies in the region sent packing or undermined by the Arab Spring, the Saudis are the Jewish State’s last chance to protect its political interests in the Arab world.”

Lando has long experience on Iran. He recently wrote a book called “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.”

He charged on Counterpunch earlier this year that Israel, the United States and Iran do not understand each other’s motives while “their advisors are engaged in an incredibly dangerous three-way game of blind man’s bluff.”

He said he personally ran into American ignorance in 1980 when he was producing ’60 Minutes’.

“I was struck by the total inability of Americans—even at the highest level—to understand the emotions and history that drove the hatred of all things American that had exploded in Iran with the fall of the Shah,” Lando wrote.

“Just up West 57th street from CBS News, for instance, was a huge billboard with the diabolical image of Khomeini glowering down on New York. I suggested we do a report to give Americans a better idea of what was driving Iran’s revolutionaries and their violent feelings against the United States….

“I stitched together a tough report with Mike Wallace based on a series of interviews in New York and Washington.’ Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was charged by one interviewee “for turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Shah, and refusing to have any contact with the opposition groups.”

Lando also reported that classified U.S. documents exposed by Iran “showed that American diplomats based in Teheran had warned Washington months earlier of the threat of a possible hostage-taking – particularly if the U.S. allowed the despised Shah to come to America for medical treatment, as the U.S. ultimately did. Those warnings had been completely ignored by Washington.”

However, before the program was broadcast, President Jimmy Carter called the president of CBS News “to try to convince him not to broadcast the report. It would, he said, undermine U.S. negotiations with Iran at a very delicate time.”

CBS did not agree to back down but agreed to change the report’s title from “Should the U.S. Apologize?” to a more neutral “The Iran File.”

“It was difficult to understand how our report could upset the hostage negotiations,” wrote Lando. “We were not revealing any secrets to Iran. The Iranians already knew well the role of the U.S. in their own history. The people we were informing were 20 million Americans — who didn’t understand what was really roiling Iran.

“And still don’t.”

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Saudi Arabia bans “V for Vendetta” masks


Lebanese protesters wearing Anonymous masks and Keffiyeh head scarves rally to mark International Labor day in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on 1 May 2013. (Photo: AFP – Mahmoud Zayyat)

Published Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior has called for the confiscation and destruction of all Guy Fawkes masks, Saudi media reported Thursday.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz has demanded that merchants stop importing the masks into Saudi Arabia, and that masks currently available in stores be confiscated and destroyed, according to newspaper al-Madina

The Guy Fawkes mask, made famous by the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta” by Andy and Lana Wachovski, has become an international symbol of anarchism and revolution. It is also an emblem of the hacktivist group Anonymous.

The mask has become particularly widespread in the Middle East to maintain anonymity during anti-government protests. Bahrain banned the Guy Fawkes mask in Februar, whereas the United Arab Emirates banned it in November, saying that anyone wearing the mask could be subjected to police questioning, Gulf News reported at the time.

All protests in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, are illegal, although demonstrations regularly take place in the central Qassim province. The government says it does not mistreat prisoners.


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The pointless Afghanistan war has cost Britain more than £37 billion


By Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian

British soldiers in Helmand province. Despite the cost of the war, not a single al-Qaida operative has been killed and the war’s main beneficiaries are arms dealers and Afghan drug lords.

The war in Afghanistan has cost Britain at least £37bn and the figure will rise to a sum equivalent to more than £2,000 for every taxpaying household, according to a devastating critique of the UK’s role in the conflict.

Since 2006, on a conservative estimate, it has cost £15m a day to maintain Britain’s military presence in Helmand province. The equivalent of £25,000 will have been spent for every one of Helmand’s 1.5 million inhabitants, more than most of them will earn in a lifetime, it says.

By 2020, the author of a new book says, Britain will have spent at least £40bn on its Afghan campaign, enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses and pay for them throughout their careers. It could fund free tuition for all students in British higher education for 10 years.

Alternatively, the sum would be enough to equip the navy with an up-to-date aircraft carrier group, or recruit and equip three army or Royal Marine brigades and fund them for 10 years.

In the first full attempted audit of what he calls Britain’s “last imperial war”, Frank Ledwidge, author of Investment in Blood, published next week by Yale University Press, estimates British troops in Helmand have killed at least 500 non-combatants. About half of these have been officially admitted and Britain has paid compensation to the victims’ families.

The rest are based on estimates from UN and NGO reports, and “collateral damage” from air strikes and gun battles.

Ledwidge includes the human and financial cost of long-term care for more than 2,600 British troops wounded in the conflict and for more than 5,000 he calls “psychologically injured”. Around 444 British soldiers have been killed in the Afghan conflict, according to the latest official MoD figures.

The MoD has estimated the cost so far of conducting military operations in Afghanistan to be about £25bn. MoD officials said on Wednesday that British troops were in Helmand to protect British national security by helping Afghans build up their own security forces.

The ministry does not keep figures on civilian casualties and has told the Commons defence committee that it cannot provide a figure for the “total” cost of operations in Afghanistan.

Ledwidge, who has also been a civilian adviser to the British government in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, says Helmand is no more stable now than when thousands of British troops were deployed there in 2006. Opium production that fell under the Taliban, is increasing, fuelling corruption and the coffers of warlords.

“Rendering the Afghan armed forces capable of securing the province [Helmand] is regarded by many ordinary British soldiers as little short of ridiculous,” Ledwidge writes.

Though British and other foreign troops were sent to Afghanistan to stop al-Qaida posing a threat to Britain’s national security, “of all the thousands of civilians and combatants, not a single al-Qaida operative or ‘international terrorist’ who could conceivably have threatened the United Kingdom is recorded as having been killed by Nato forces in Helmand,” Ledwidge writes.

The real beneficiaries of the war, he suggests, are development consultants, Afghan drug lords, and international arms companies. Much of British aid to Afghanistan is spent on consultancy fees rather than those Afghans who need it most.

It was a serious mistake, the author adds, to treat al-Qaida as a military problem – the problem was primarily an intelligence one. Reflecting the widespread view across Whitehall and among defence chiefs, he says the real reason Britain has expended so much blood and money on Afghanistan is simple: “The perceived necessity of retaining the closest possible links with the US.”

Ledwidge told the Guardian: “Once the last British helicopter leaves a deserted and wrecked Camp Bastion, Helmand – to which Britain claimed it would bring ‘good governance’ – will be a fractious narco-state occasionally fought over by opium barons and their cronies.”

He added: “There are no new lessons here, only one rather important old precept: before you engage in a war, understand the environment you are going into, precisely and realistically what it is you are trying to achieve and will it be worth the cost? In other words have a strategy.”

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Robo-Snipers, “Nazi Auto Kill Zones” to Kill Palestinians

By Noah Shachtman

May 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House” -“Wired” –  For years and years, the Israeli military has been trying to figure out a way to keep Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from crossing over into Israel proper.   The latest tactic: create a set of “automated kill zones” by networking together remote-controlled machine guns, ground sensors, and drones along the 60-kilometer border.


Defense News‘ Barbara Opall-Rome reports that “initial deployment plans for the See-Shoot system call for mounting a 0.5-caliber automated machine gun in each of several pillboxes interspersed along the Gaza border fence.”

Connected via fiber optics to a remote operator station and a command-and-control center, each machine gun-mounted station serves as a type of robotic sniper, capable of enforcing a nearly 1,500-meter-deep no-go zone.

The IDF’s [Israeli Defense Forces] Southern Command is also considering adding Gill/Spike anti-tank missiles to extend the no-go zones to several kilometers, defense and industry sources here said.

The guns will be based on the Samson Remote Control Weapons Station.  And the pillboxes are supposed to be positioned “at intervals of some hundreds of meters along the border, ” Jane’s Defence Weekly
observes.  They’ll be “protected and secured (alarms, sensors and steel doors) and feature retractable armored covers that protect the weapon station when not in use.”

Once IDF sensors locate a potential target, the operator can cue Sentry Tech to verify or engage the target through its own electro-optic (EO) day/night sensor package. The sensor-acquired information is transferred to the electro-optic package of the weapon station, which slews to the target, enabling the operator to locate and track the target… Each Sentry Tech can cover another in the event of a system failure and a single [center] can control up to 15 weapon stations.”

The idea, ultimately, is to have a
“closed-loop” system — no human intervention required.   But,
Opall-Rome notes, “until the top brass is completely satisfied with the fidelity of their overlapping sensor network – and until the
19- and 20-year-old soldiers deployed behind computer screens are thoroughly trained in operating the system — approval by a commanding officer will be required before pushing the kill button.”

Opall-Rome adds that “See-Shoot embodies the IDF’s goal of waging no-signature warfare along its border areas. It obviates the need to dispatch infantry to intercept intruders or to respond to probing maneuvers by enemy squads.”

The nearly $4-million system is supposed to be completed by the end of the summer.  “But the Israeli government has already authorized IDF
Southern Command to begin operating parts of the system in response to the recent surge in violence emanating from the terror-infested strip.”

It’s all part of a larger plan to “wag[e] no-signature warfare along its border areas. It obviates the need to dispatch infantry to intercept intruders or to respond to probing maneuvers by enemy squads.”

Which may sound like a good idea.  But Haninah Levine says the tech ignores the lessons of last summer’s war in Lebanon.  The Winograd Commission, appointed to investigate the conflict, “calls ‘no-signature warfare’ by its real name,” he says: “’withdrawal of soldiers and military targets from positions to which [the enemy] can penetrate with relative ease,’ and identifies this strategy as a major component in the IDF’s failures in the lead-up to the Second Lebanon

The problem is not that the technology fails: it’s that the technology does not solve the problems which the conditions of engagement create. Along the Lebanese border, the problem was that the rules of engagement allowed the IDF to fire only if attacked by
Hezbollah: the electronic fence therefore proved useless, since alarms were regularly ignored even when the Israelis knew that they indicated
Hezbollah was preparing an attack.

Along the Gaza fence, the rules of engagement are much more aggressive, but the Palestinians will still probably try to “train” the IDF to ignore the system’s alarms by sending unarmed civilians towards the fence. The statement that “the technology here is not as important as the need to evaluate each potential threat on a case by case basis” is as true from a military point of view as it is from a human-rights point of view. And, by the way, the only known case of Palestinians kidnapping an Israeli soldier along the Gaza fence since the disengagement took place when the
Palestinians emerged from a tunnel well behind the IDF lines – a tactic which this system would do nothing to thwart.”

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‘The Point of No Return’: Should Robots Be Able to Decide to Kill You On Their Own?


U.N. report calls for a moratorium, but lethal autonomous robots could be a reality soon

U.S. military using high-tech Predator drones. Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

A U.N. report released earlier this week called for a global moratorium on developing highly sophisticated robots that can select and kill targets without a human being directly issuing a command. These machines, known as Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs), may sound like science fiction – but experts increasingly believe some version of them could be created in the near future. The report, released by Professor Chrisof Heyns, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, also calls for the creation of “a high level panel on LARs to articulate a policy for the international community on the issue.”

The U.S. Department of Defense issued a directive on the subjeclast year, which the U.N. report says “bans the development and fielding of LARs unless certain procedures are followed” – although DoD officials have called the directive “flexible.

Unlike groups like Human Rights Watch – which has called for an all-out ban on LARs – the U.N. report suggests a pause on their development and deployment, while acknowledging the uncertainty of future technologies. “The danger is we are going to realize one day we have passed the point of no return,” Heyns tells Rolling Stone. “It is very difficult to get states to abandon weaponry once developed, especially when it is so sophisticated and offers so many military advantages. I am not necessarily saying LARs should never be used, but I think we need to understand it much better before we cross that threshold, and we must make sure that humans retain meaningful control over life and death decisions.”

Others who follow the subject echo these concerns. “I believe [LARs are] a paradigm shift because it fundamentally changes the requirements for human responsibility in making decisions to kill,” says Peter Asaro, co-founder and vice chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. “As such, it threatens to create automated systems that could deny us of our basic human rights, without human supervision or oversight.”

The Drone Industry Wants a Makeover

What does it mean for a technology to be autonomous? Missy Cummings, a technologist at MIT, has defined this quality as the ability “to reason in the presence of uncertainty. But robot autonomy is a spectrum, not a switch, and one that for now will likely develop piecemeal. On one end of the spectrum are machines with a human “in the loop” – that is, the human being, not the robot, makes the direct decision to pull the trigger. (This is what we see in today’s drone technology.) On the other end is full autonomy, with humans “out of the loop,” in which LARs make the decision to kill entirely on their own, according to how they have been programmed. Since computers can process large amounts of data much faster than humans, proponents argue that LARs with humans “out of the loop” will provide a tactical advantage in battle situations where seconds could be the difference between life and death. Those who argue against LARs say the slowdown added by having a human “in the loop” vastly outweighs the dangerous consequences that could arise from unleashing this technology.

Because LARs don’t yet exist, the discussion around them remains largely hypothetical. Could a robot distinguish between a civilian and an insurgent? Could it do so better than a human soldier? Could a robot show mercy – that is, even if a target were “legitimate,” could it decide not to kill? Could a robot refuse an order? If a robot acting on its own kills the wrong person, who is held responsible?

Supporters argue that using LARs could have a humanitarian upside. Ronald Arkin, a roboticist and roboethicist at Georgia Tech who has received funding from the Department of Defense, is in favor of the moratorium, but is optimistic in the longterm. “Bottom line is that protection of civilian populations is paramount with the advent of these new systems,” he says. “And it is my belief that if this technology is done correctly, it can potentially lead to a reduction in non-combatant casualties when compared to traditional human war fighters.”

In a recent paper, law professors Kenneth Anderson and Matthew Waxman suggest that robots would be free from “human-soldier failings that are so often exacerbated by fear, panic, vengeance, or other emotions – not to mention the limits of human senses and cognition.”

Still, many concerns remain. These systems, if used, would be required to conform to international law. If LARs couldn’t follow rules of distinction and proportionality – that is, determine correct targets and minimize civilian casualties, among other requirements – then the country or group using them would be committing war crimes. And even if these robots were programmed to follow the law, it is entirely possible that they could remain undesirable for a host of other reasons. They could potentially lower the threshold for entering into a conflict. Their creation could spark an arms race that – because of their advantages – would become a feedback loop. The U.N. report describes the fear that “the increased precision and ability to strike anywhere in the world, even where no communication lines exist, suggests that LARs will be very attractive to those wishing to perform targeted killing.”

The report also warns that “on the domestic front, LARs could be used by States to suppress domestic enemies and to terrorize the population at large.” Beyond that, the report warns LARs could exacerbate the problems associated with the position that the entire world is a battlefield, one that – though the report doesn’t say so explicitly – the United States has held since 9/11. “If current U.S. drone strike practices and policies are any example, unless reforms are introduced into domestic and international legal systems, the development and use of autonomous weapons is likely to lack the necessary transparency and accountability,” says Sarah Knuckey, a human rights lawyer at New York University’s law school who hosted an expert consultation for the U.N. report.

“There is widespread concern that allowing LARs to kill people may denigrate the value of life itself,” the report concludes – even if LARs are able to meet standards of international law. It argues, eerily, that a moratorium on these weapons is urgently needed. “If left too long to its own devices, the matter will, quite literally, be taken out of human hands.”

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Kerry on process

By: Norman Finkelstein

The biggest, boldest, most ambitious development in the Middle East peace process for two decades. With this faint praise, Secretary of State John Kerry introduced a new initiative to revive the Palestinian economy on Sunday at an annual World Economic Forum summit in Jordan. The project will see a team of business people working with Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair to mobilize $4 billion of private investment in the West Bank and Gaza, providing jobs and growth for Palestinians and creating the conditions for renewed negotiations with Israel.[1]

‘Economic peace’

Promoting Palestinian economic development in lieu of a political settlement of the conflict is not a new idea. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long voiced preference for ‘economic peace’ over the traditional variety. ‘[Y]ou cannot explain democracy to a country like Yemen whose GDP per capita is less than $1,000′, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman explained last year, to laughter from his Brookings Institution audience. They can’t understand ‘who is Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and what is the greatest French Revolution’.[2]

The Palestinian economy is indeed in deep crisis. But lack of private sector investment is a symptom rather than a cause. The World Bank reports that the main obstacles to Palestinian economic growth are political—chiefly, Israel’s fragmentation of Palestinian territory and restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and people.[3] While these persist, grandiose initiatives to promote Palestinian development are a distraction, or else an attempt to maintain the politicalstatus quo. As the Financial Times reported dryly in 2008, ‘Mr Netanyahu wants to see the West Bank divided into a collection of disconnected economic zones with dedicated business projects’.[4] It is ‘astounding’, says Harvard’s Sara Roy, a specialist on Palestinian political economy, that the Obama administration is reviving an approach which aims to ‘substitute limited and transient economic gains for an end to Israel’s occupation’.

Kerry insists that his economic programme is ‘not a substitute for the political approach’, which remains ‘our top priority’. But Israel’s government rejects the international community’s terms for settling the conflict, and the Obama administration is unwilling to pressure it to moderate its position. Unless this changes, Israel’s occupation will persist, and the extent to which it can ease its strangulation of Palestine’s economy is limited. The World Bank cites Israel’s control of Area C, nearly 60% of the West Bank, as the principle obstacle to sustainable Palestinian development. Over the past year in Area C, Israeli authorities rejected 94% of Palestinian applications for building permits and demolished hundreds of Palestinian structures, displacing nearly 800 people.[5] The Netanyahu government, an Israeli newspaper reports, has rejected a request from Kerry to permit the PA to build factories there.[6]

In the absence of political progress, the most the U.S. can hope to achieve is a temporary revival of ‘Fayyadism’, the programme of investment and institutional reform implemented after 2007 by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who resigned last month. Fayyad sought to develop the Palestinian economy and construct the institutions of a future Palestinian state without waiting for a negotiated settlement with Israel. ‘The reality of [a Palestinian] state’, he declared, ‘will impose itself on the world’. Fayyad succeeded in implementing several important reforms, and oversaw a period of growth in the West Bank.

But as the World Bank reported in a study timed to mark the deadline Fayyad had set for establishing an independent state, this was ‘unsustainable, driven primarily by donor aid rather than a rebounding private sector’. Reduced aid flows in 2011 precipitated a fiscal collapse from which the PA has yet to recover. More broadly, ‘the structure of the Palestinian economy has substantially deteriorated’ since the Oslo process began in the early 1990s, having been systematically de-industrialized and rendered wholly dependent on Israel’s economy and international aid.[7] Aid-fuelled bubbles and the perpetual provision of life-support are compatible with Israel’s occupation; sustainable development is not.

Peace process vs. internationalisation

Rather than a serious attempt to put the Palestinian economy on an independent footing, Kerry’s initiative is better understood as a response to growing international pressure on Israel, and domestic pressure on the Palestinian Authority, to bring the occupation to an end.

The U.S. and Israel have consistently rejected international law and opinion as a basis for resolving the conflict, with good reason: as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak explained, ‘on the matter of borders, the entire world is with the Palestinians and not with us’.[8] Thus, when Palestinian negotiators at Camp David insisted that Israel accept the internationally-recognized pre-June 1967 border as a baseline for negotiations, President Clinton was furious. ‘This isn’t the Security Council here,’ he fumed. ‘This isn’t the UN General Assembly… I’m the president of the United States.’[9] ‘I am a lawyer’, then- Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Palestinian negotiators in 2007, ‘but I am against law—international law in particular.’[10]

The U.S.-led peace process has likewise been based not on internationally-agreed principles but Israeli and Palestinian demands, mediated and adjudicated by the U.S. The U.S. and Israel have explicitly presented the peace process as an alternative to, and used it to deter, measures by the international community to impose a solution to the conflict. The Obama administration justified its opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations recognition in September 2011 on the basis that an internationalization of the conflict would complicate potential bilateral peace talks. Earlier this month it pressured the EU to shelve plans to accurately label goods produced in Israeli settlements, on the same grounds.[11] The peace process’s very existence is the product of secret discussions between Israeli and PLO officials, culminating in the 1993 Oslo Accord, which subverted the official negotiations being conducted at the time. Whereas official Palestinian representatives demanded the fulfilment of Palestinian rights under international law, the Oslo Accord, and the peace process it initiated, neglected even to demand the dismantling of Israeli settlements.[12]

Today, in the face of protracted diplomatic stagnation, Europe in particular is growing impatient.[13] A recent open-letter signed by 19 former senior European officials stated frankly that the Oslo peace process ‘has nothing more to offer’ and urged a ‘new approach’.[14] A non-binding 2012 EU Heads of Missions report went so far as to propose sanctions on Israeli settlements.[15]  Israeli officials have sought to restart direct negotiations to pre-empt the threat of international measures. In a stormy Knesset debate, Avigdor Lieberman recently urged opponents of a two-state settlement to support a revived diplomatic process, in the interests of ‘conflict management’. ‘If we do not initiate’, he warned, ‘there will be others who will put plans on the table’.[16] The Obama administration’s appeals to non-existent negotiations can only defer international action for so long.

Zombie Fayyadism

For its part, the Palestinian Authority is suffering a profound crisis of legitimacy. There was a time when it could point to the peace process as evidence of progress towards ending Israel’s occupation. But that stopped being credible to everyone except Western commentators by the early-2000s, and the resulting disillusionment was a major factor in both the outbreak of the second intifada and Fatah’s 2006 electoral defeat to Hamas. From 2007 the PA found an alternative source of legitimacy as a distributor of international aid.

But this was unsustainable. Donors were not prepared to pump hundreds of millions of dollars a year in perpetuity merely to keep the Palestinian economy afloat. More fundamentally, the PA was unable to reconcile its respective commitments to its dual constituencies—Israel and international donors, on the one hand, and Palestinians in the occupied territories on the other. The latter were unwilling to abandon their political demands in exchange for international aid and, facing competition from Hamas, PA officials felt obliged to take visible steps to challenge Israel’s occupation. When they did so, pursuing recognition at the UN, international and Israeli assistance was sharply reduced.

Kerry apparently hopes that by throwing even more international money at the Palestinian economy, these contradictions can be overcome—growth in the West Bank will shore up the PA’s legitimacy and secure political stability, while a renewed peace process will reduce international pressure on Israel and the U.S. The Palestinian Authority has so far resisted U.S. pressure to resume negotiations, fearing the implications for its domestic legitimacy, but given its dependence on external aid it is unlikely to hold out for long.[17]

It has already caved to U.S. pressure and pledged to refrain from further appeals to the UN or the International Criminal Court.[18] Depending on how much money he and Blair’s team are able to raise, Kerry’s ideal scenario could materialize and hold for a while—but as long as Palestinians insist on their right to self-determination, and Israel remains determined to frustrate it, the cash will at best paper over the underlying contradictions, which are only growing with time.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USAComments Off on Kerry on process

The Piper Report

The Piper Report May 26, 2013

by crescentandcross



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