Friday, 25 July 2014

What's at stake in the Mali negotiations?

Peace talks between the Malian government and the Tuareg nationalists have entered the next round. But what is behind this conflict and what’s at stake in the negotiations?

Last week, the latest round of negotiations opened between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels. The Tuareg groups are primarily nationalist. They include the Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Arab Movement for Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). The Mali government has to consider how best to achieve a peaceful settlement in a conflict that has gone on for more than two years.

Since early 2012, Mali has been the setting of ongoing battles after Tuareg insurgents initiated a rebellion and began taking over northern Mali. In Bamako, General Amadou Sanogo overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012 on the pretext that the Touré government was incapable of resolving the crisis. Touré played a major part in Mali’s transition to democracy in holding back the military from firing on demonstrations and, ultimately, overthrowing the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. He was later elected President in 2002 and held office until being overthrown in 2012.

General Sanogo received his military education and training in the US. Once Sanogo overthrew the elected government he suspended the constitution and imposed a curfew across the country. Mali was faced by economic sanctions from its neighbours. To overcome these sanctions Sanogo stepped aside in 2013 to make way for an interim government until an election could be held. Once an election was held and Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was elected president Amadou Sanogo was promoted to four-star general. Soon after the inauguration Sanogo was dismissed and later arrested. He is currently awaiting trial for complicity in the kidnapping and disappearing of military rivals.
The coup did not prevent what would happen next. Within a month, Mali had an interim government in Bamako and the Tuareg rebellion had taken control of northern Mali and unilaterally declared the independence of the state of Azawad. Not long after, Reuters reported that “the coup has turned into a spectacular own-goal, emboldening the rebels to take further ground”. It’s important to bear in mind that the Tuareg people were amalgamated into French Sudan when the French Empire conquered Mali in 1898. The multitude of tribes found themselves divided by the new borders imposed on them.
Northern Mali makes up a major portion of the Tuareg ancestral lands, which extend from parts of Algeria and Libya to Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. As a Berber people the Tuaregs have a distinct language and culture from the rest of Mali. The French wouldn’t relinquish control of Mali until 1960 when the country became an independent state with a socialist government. Soon after independence came the first major rebellion of the Tuaregs against the Bamako government.

NOTE: The MNLA's 2012 bid for Tuareg independence was not the first time that the country has been witness to insurrections. The earliest uprising was under French colonial rule in 1916. Ag Mohammed Koacen led a revolt which wasn't quashed for a year. He was later captured and executed in 1919.

The French government launched Operation Serval to provide armed support for the Malian military. Now seeing the Islamists as a common enemy, the MNLA provided logistical support to the French intervention while officially remaining neutral. Joint efforts by the French and the Malian military drove the Islamists out of Konna after a week of fighting. In June last year, the MNLA and the Malian government signed a preliminary agreement in which a ceasefire would be guaranteed and civilian rule restored to rebel-controlled areas, such as Kidal, in order to hold elections. Since then there has been an election in Mali and the MNLA has resumed its offensive after government forces fired on a Tuareg protest.

4,000 French troops worked as part of Operation Serval in 2013 with an African force of 2,900 troops. Up to 1,500 people have been killed. As of January 2013, around 230,000 people had been internally displaced and 144,000 had fled abroad.

The latest round of negotiations is being held in Algeria, a country with significant experience of civil strife. As the French are winding down their military operation and moving to a counter-terrorism operation, the UN will take over day-to-day security in Mali.

DATA POINT: The UN will take over the day-to-day security detail of Mali with a stabilisation force composed of 6,500 troops.

The focus of the talks is on the cantonment of areas under rebel control in exchange for disarmament. The cantonment plan was initially proposed and supported as part of the Ouagadougou Agreement signed in June 2013. The plan has not been implemented in full because the MNLA has yet to take part in the process.

This article was originally published at The World Weekly on July 24, 2014.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

What is Netanyahu playing at?

In all of the whirlwind coverage of the 'conflict' between the IDF and Hamas in the Gaza Strip there are a number of pertinent questions being ignored. I say 'conflict' with inverted commas because the conflict did not begin on July 8. Nor did it begin with the deaths of three Jewish teenagers on the West Bank. The origins go back to 1967 and the absence of any peace settlement acknowledges Palestinian grievances. Israel continues to violate international law in its occupation of the West Bank and its siege of the Gaza Strip prevents any kind of development there since Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Strip in 2005 (which came far too late).

It is as though the Israel-Palestine conflict is composed of a series of smaller 'conflicts', such as Operation Cast Lead and the ongoing bloodbath. Of course, for Israelis, peace comes when the rockets stop, but even then there is no peace for the Palestinians. To this day Gaza remains under blockade on all sides, while the West Bank is being gradually broken up into cantons, its most arable land and best resources being taken under Israeli control. The everyday reality of the Occupation does not effect the Israeli public mind and its perception of violence visited upon Israel. The experience of systemic violence in the policing of every aspect of life in the West Bank does not count as a 'conflict'. But it does fit in with the Israeli understanding of 'peace'.

In their search for the murderers, the Israelis arrested 400 Palestinians and, in their raids, killed 5-7 Palestinians. Then came the reprisal killing of a Palestinian boy, the culprits being caught soon afterwards. On July 7 Hamas upped its rocketfire into Southern Israel and Netanyahu sanctioned the first airstrikes on July 8. It was on July 14 that General Sisi offered a ceasefire proposal (without consulting Hamas) to which the Israelis quickly agreed. No doubt Netanyahu knew full well that Hamas would not accept and wanted to retaliate to the airstrikes. Hamas viewed compliance with a non-agreed ceasefire as a surrender and not a truce. The IDF resumed the bombing on July 15 and by the next day the bodycount had risen to 200 Palestinians.

It is all too easy to forget that there are fundamental principles at stake here, in particular the right to self-determination. Netanyahu would like us to believe Israel is a peaceful country trying to secure itself from these outbreaks of irrational violence on its borders. In actuality Israel lays claim to vast swathes of the 22% of Mandate Palestine promised to the Palestinians under international law. As of 1967 the internationally recognised borders of Israel leave the country with 78% of the land of former Mandatory Palestine. Yet the Occupation lays claim to much more than that 78%. The constant expansion of the settlements chisels away at the West Bank and clears land of Palestinian families in the end condemning them to languish in cantons.

On July 16, Hamas put forward 10 conditions for a decade-long truce, which was reported by Ma'ariv and translated by Mondoweiss: 1) withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border; 2) freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths; 3) lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people; 4) establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision; 5) increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers; 6) internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations; 7) international forces on the borders; 8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque; 9) prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement; 10) reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

Without going into the huge problems with Hamas as an organisation it may be said that the group are at least rational actors. To presuppose otherwise really harks back to the racist stereotyping of Arabs which we have seen since 1956 when Nasser fought off an Anglo-French-Israeli invasion. The formerly supine people of the desert became rampaging savages over night. Hamas fires rockets in many directions mainly to terrify the Israeli population, hoping that they will leave if they just fire enough rockets. Edward Said characterised it as a non-strategy, it's the absence of strategy to be more precise. The Palestinians know that the negotiations are rigged as Israeli politicians do not accept international law from the outset and the entire process is managed by Americans.

There was a brief ceasefire agreement in the morning of July 17 to which both sides complied until the afternoon. By the evening the IDF had began its ground invasion of the country. The bodycount has since risen to over 430 Palestinians and more than 3,000 injured. The ceasefire proposal of the Red Cross, covering the Shuja'iyya neighbourhood, was rejected by both sides on July 20.

It's impossible to understand Israel's position without historical context. The same goes for the attempts by Palestinians to forge some kind of body national out of the remnants of their ancestral lands. The so-called 'peace process' is a fraud, as we all know, as they all know too, its main function is to glorify hawks as doves. The Nobel Peace President needs as much of that as he can get after all of those drone strikes he has sanctioned. The whole process is really the wrangling necessary to draw out non-negotiations and, in fact, allow greater time for greater expansion and aggression to take place. You don't have to look too hard to find this.

As Robert Fisk has pointed out, Benjamin Netanyahu has been consistently evasive, first saying he couldn't talk with Mahmoud Abbas because he didn't represent Hamas, but only the Palestinian Authority. When Abbas formed a unity coalition with Hamas - which he insisted would be based upon "recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of previous agreements" - Netanyahu condemned Abbas for forging an alliance with a "murderous terrorist organisation that calls for Israel's destruction." Netanyahu now claims he can only talk with Abbas if he splits with Hamas. The message is clear: the Israeli government will not talk to Abbas.

The Obama administration used its veto power at the UN Security Council to oppose the Palestinian bid for statehood in September 2011. In February of the same year Obama vetoed a UN resolution that endorsed official US policy on the illegal settlements in the occupied territories. That's right, President Obama went as far as undermining American law to defend Israel's settlements. The Israeli government under Netanyahu has stood in firm opposition to all UN resolutions to the conflict and to the Palestinian bids for statehood. Against all odds, in November 2012, the Palestinians finally achieved a modicum of statehood with 138 countries voting in its favour, 41 abstentions and 9 opposition votes (including Israel, of course).

Here's an important question, Netanyahu is working to break apart the unity between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and he ultimately sees the Occupation as permanent, what happens if he succeeds? Firstly, the Palestinians will be left in tiny fragmented cantons, they'll have enough autonomy to fire rockets, and then the IDF will bomb the shit out of them from time to time (sound familiar?). Of course, this means keeping Palestinians separate from Israelis for the sake of holding onto a majority Jewish state. To any reasonable observer this is intolerable and unjust, but there are two alternatives:

1) A two-state settlement based on the 1967 border giving states to both peoples. Believe it or not this proposal has had overwhelming international support since 1976 and has been blocked at the UN by the US government.
2) A bi-national settlement where the occupied territories are assimilated into Israel and the Palestinians become equal citizens of Jewish and Arab Israelis. This would almost certainly mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state.

If Netanyahu succeeds in his aims then it means the second solution will be more likely than the first. That's an irony I suspect is lost in the heads of so many of his supporters. Certainly it is in the twin-case of Lieberman and Bennett.

Friday, 18 July 2014

What is happening in Libya?

At the weekend there were clashes in major cities in Libya. On Sunday fighting broke out between rival militias vying for control of Tripoli international airport, leaving six people dead and 25 wounded before order was restored. The same night, in Benghazi, the security forces fought militias in a battle that claimed the lives of five people.  Fighting continued on Monday as militias resumed efforts to take the airport. The clash left a security guard dead, six people wounded and forced the airport to be closed.

In response to the violence, the UN announced it is withdrawing its staff from Libya. The country’s second-largest airport in Benghazi has been closed for two months and Misrata airport also closed on Monday. According to Al Jazeera, 36 people were wounded on Sunday in what were the worst clashes seen since November 2013 when 40 people were killed in fighting between militias and armed residents. The most recent clashes were between the Zintan brigade and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room.
The Zintan militia controls Tripoli airport and still holds Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second son of the deceased dictator, who it captured in November 2011. The Zintan brigade controlled Tripoli international airport since 2011 and has alliances with nationalist groups. Originally comprising many groups founded in Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains, this coalition can muster five brigades. The militia also runs a satellite TV channel called Libya al-Watan. The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, an Islamist organisation, held official power in Tripoli from 2011 to 2013, but lost it after briefly kidnapping Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013.
It’s clear to observers that the country remains unstable three years after the Gaddafi regime was toppled by NATO and rebel forces. Ali Zeidan would later resign as Prime Minister in March 2014 after he failed to block an oil tanker, seized by an armed group, from leaving the port of Sidra. The tanker was later intercepted by US Navy Seals. Zeidan was succeeded by Abdullah al-Thani, who in turn resigned in April claiming gunmen had targeted his family. From May to June there was an interim government led by disputed Prime Minister Ahmed al-Mateiq and al-Thani has since returned to his post.

Many of the militias claim to be maintaining law and order and the security of the borders at a time when the government still seems weak. Each of the groups has its own regional, tribal and ideological commitments. The Zintan brigades are loyal to General Khalifa Haftar. It was after the attempt to wrestle Tripoli airport from the control of the Zintan group that the attack on Islamist bases in Benghazi was launched. The attack in Benghazi was launched by security forces aligned with Haftar. Haftar has the loyalty of the Libyan National Army, as well as the al-Saiqa forces, composed of Libya’s elite army units.

A secular nationalist, Khalifa Haftar was an ally of Muammar Gaddafi in the 1969 putsch against King Idris, which began the Colonel’s four decade reign. He later led the Libyan campaigns into Chad in the so-called Toyota war and was captured in 1987. At this point Gaddafi distanced himself from Haftar, who was later freed in negotiations by the CIA. For more than 20 years, Haftar lived in Langley Virginia, where the CIA’s headquarters are also situated, returning to Libya in 2011 to join the rebel forces fighting to bring down Gaddafi. He was eventually put in charge of Libya’s ground forces.
In February 2014, General Haftar appeared on television and denounced the General National Council (GNC) as “corrupt” and called for an uprising. The uprising never came. Months later, General Haftar launched Operation Dignity against Islamist fighters in the country, in particular Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist militia, allegedly involved in the the torching of the US consulate in September 2012. Not long after the operation was launched there was an attack on parliament in an attempt to overthrow the GNC and the Libyan government. The armed men who carried out the attack were aligned with Haftar and included Zintan forces.
At the same time the country remains wracked with political instability and the Libyan economy faces contraction. Libya once exported 1.25 million barrels of oil a day. Its oil exports have slowed considerably as the major eastern ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider have been closed for nearly a year. The two ports exported 500,000 barrels a day each. Oil production is now 600,000 barrels a day, when it was once 1.4 million barrels a day. Four out of five ports in the country are under militia control. While Libya may have slipped out of the headlines since Gaddafi’s fall, it is clear the country’s problems are not over and it is not yet the stable democracy the West would like it to be.

This article was originally published at The World Weekly on

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Talking Israeli Standards.

On July 11, Netanyahu said "No state would allow its citizens to be targeted without a harsh response." This point has been constantly reused by every apologist for Israeli criminality on the planet. Somehow everyone imagines this is an unprecedented situation. Veteran Mid East correspondent Robert Fisk knows better, thanks to his experience of Northern Ireland and Lebanon:

What if the people of London were being rocketed like the people of Israel? Wouldn’t they strike back? Well yes, but we Brits don’t have more than a million former inhabitants of the UK cooped up in refugee camps over a few square miles around Hastings.

The last time this specious argument was used was in 2008, when Israel invaded Gaza and killed at least 1,100 Palestinians (exchange rate: 1,100 to 13). What if Dublin was under rocket attack, the Israeli ambassador asked then? But the UK town of Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland was under rocket attack from the Irish Republic in the 1970s – yet the RAF didn’t bomb Dublin in retaliation, killing Irish women and children. In Canada in 2008, Israel’s supporters were making the same fraudulent point. What if the people of Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal were being rocket-attacked from the suburbs of their own cities? How would they feel? But the Canadians haven’t pushed the original inhabitants of Canadian territory into refugee camps.

The point has been made before, including by Peter Hitchens of all people. The IRA fired rockets at targets on the British mainland many times, attempted to assassinate Thatcher with the Brighton bombing, and fired mortars into John Major's backgarden (only for one to explode to no success). The British government did not respond by carpet-bombing Belfast and invading the Irish Republic where many IRA members based themselves. Yet that is what we would expect if we go by the standards of Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who is convinced it is normal to invade a country and shoot and bomb defenceless unarmed civilians.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Finkelstein on the latest attack on Gaza.

"Gaza was bombarded with 273 airstrikes yesterday (8th July). That's an average of 11 an hour. Gaza is about 25 miles long and 4 miles wide, with a population of 1.7 million crammed into that tiny space. It is under Israeli occupation and Israeli siege. Hospitals estimate they will run out of resources to treat the wounded in about a day. Electricity is intermittent. Gaza has no army, air force or navy. Israel is the fourth largest military power in the world. Resistance to occupation is allowed under international law. Israel's occupation, siege and collective punishment of Gaza is not."
- Norman Finkelstein, July 8 2014

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Notes on Anglo-Fascism.

In my most recent articles for Souciant Magazine I've been focusing on the Far-Right in the UK, it's history and it's relationship with the concept of whiteness. In the article 'Keeping Britain White' I take Powell's notorious speeches as my jumping off point. It was the perfect starting-point as the extent to which Powell tapped into the race-consciousness of white people in England cannot be exaggerated. There's a reason Powell's memory lives to this day and his political career has been eclipsed by the speeches he gave in '68. The spirit of Powell still captivates many to this day.

It was in 1968 that the Conservative politician Enoch Powell gave his notorious speech, in which he claimed that “in fifteen to twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”. He invoked the language of ‘excreta’ and ‘wide-grinning picaninnies’ in relation to Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
Powell imbued this inflammatory portrayal with a classicist reference to the poet Virgil: “as I look ahead I am filled with foreboding like the Roman I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”
Immediately the speech became notorious and has since remained an artefact in the collective imagination of British life. Every so often there is an eruption of racial strife and the phrase ‘Enoch was right’ is bandied about. Yet the speech had not emerged from a clear sky. In the mid-1960s, Powell had penned articles against Indian men sporting turbans and beards at work. There had been serious racial tensions in the past. The Notting Hill riots of 1958 were followed by calls for the doors to ‘coloured’ immigration to be shut. The Far-Right participated in these riots and sought to propel themselves further on the basis of racial strife.
If you look back at old newsreels from forty to fifty years ago you can see people saying things like “We want to keep Britain white”. It was a slogan for far-right organisations like the White Defence League, the National Front, and later, the BNP. In the aftermath of Powell’s speech people would march under banners and placards that displayed the same or similar messages. He had tapped into the racial consciousness of the white working-class. As a prominent right-wing politician Powell had given credence to sentiments widely held in the country. He had gone out on a limb in a bid to unseat his rival Ted Heath as leader of the Conservative Party.

I go on to go over the racial oppression of the Irish by the British in order to frame our common assumptions about race. I refer to the accounts of racist signs, such as "No coloured, or Irish", and the details of British colonial rule in Ireland. Relying on the work of Noel Ignatiev and Ted Allen I present how the Irish were not considered 'white' until the late nineteenth century. In fact, in a conversation I had with Carl Freedman, on this matter, I was told that it was only in certain parts of the US. So there was asymmetry in that regard. The Irish may have found headway on the East Coast, but not necessarily across the American continent. It is true that the KKK was partly a successor to earlier nativist movements looking to restrict the rights of Irish Catholics.

My comments on how this can be did not satisfy some. As I had explained that the 'white race' is not so much a biological phenomenon as it is a socially constructed formation this was bound to be the case. It was thought I was saying that there is no biological basis or differences whatsoever. This is not so, there are genetic gaps and clusters of ancestry. However, 'race' is a far too crude a concept as by the one-drop rule the entirety of the white American population in the Southern States would have been deemed 'black'. South African Apartheid had the same trouble in defining what constitutes 'coloured', 'black', 'Indian', and 'white'. The fact that the Irish were not considered 'white' by the English (and were compared to apes by the popular press) while the Japanese were categorised as 'white' in South Africa tells us a lot about how 'race' really works.

In the next piece I wrote 'Britain Pushes Right' I looked at Britain First and tried to contextualise it within the history of the Far-Right. History reveals the extent to which we take the unoriginal for the original. The Far-Right has a very limited playbook, though we underestimate them at our peril, we have to make sure our response is proportionate to the threat we face. A great article on the Britain First rabble has been produced by Thomas G Clark. Here you can see my own take on the Golding-Dowson double-act.

At the helm we find a double-act Paul Golding and Jim Dowson. Golding leads the Christian patrols, which consists of a campaign of intimidation against the Asian British community. He was a BNP councillor from 2009 to 2011 and left amidst the infighting around Nick Griffin. Dowson is a much more mercurial figure. He ran the BNP call centre in Northern Ireland and pumped £4 million into the Party’s coffers to provide fuel for a public relations campaign. As he was in the Six Counties, Dowson found natural allies in the Ulster Loyalist movement, and has been organising Union flag protests. Before all of this, the Scottish friend of British nationalism was a Calvinist minister and a pro-life campaigner, with ties to the American Religious Right.
Never a member of the BNP, Dowson now says he would prefer to see UKIP go from strength to strength. He has been explicit that the aim of providing support to the BNP was to “push everyone over to the right” and that has resulted in the “success” of UKIP. As Britain First put up candidates for the EU elections of 2014, the group recommended to its supporters to vote for UKIP, or the English Democrats, in areas where they could not put up a candidate. The only other recommendation was to not vote British National Party. Dowson has said that he foresees a Holy War, and that he agrees with Islamists who call it jihad. He only stipulates that it’s really a crusade.

It’s not the first time that the British far right has moved to appropriate religious sensibilities. It’s not surprising, as fascism is a ‘scavenger ideology’, to quote Robert Paxton, which constitutes itself by plucking up whatever may propel it forward. After the National Front was humiliated at the ballot box in 1979, its members moved on to experiment with a kind of fascist Christian mysticism. This was led by Derek Holland, a devout Catholic, who declared himself a ‘political soldier’, advocating an austere and disciplined life committed to the purity of nationalist ideals. The drift into esotericism was no doubt furthered by the infighting which ultimately led to the Front splitting up.

The ‘crusade’ Dowson envisions has international dimensions. The Christian infused nationalism has obvious allies in those parts of the world where religion still plays a serious role as an identity-marker in political conflicts. On the Britain First Facebook page, you can find pictures which demonise Bosnian Muslims, while others celebrate the Lebanese Phalange. No doubt this is to align Britain First with Serbian ultra-nationalists and a Maronite Christian organisation founded out of admiration for Adolf Hitler. This is just what you can find out if you canvas their Facebook page with scrutiny in one’s eyes. As we have already seen this wouldn’t be the first time that the far right has forged unexpected alliances.

The article is now dangling on reddit for the usual feeding frenzy. Good luck to the mob, I say.