In South Africa again


Hi There,

I’m going to resume my Steve trips blog because I’m once again in South Africa for a 2 ½ month stint. This is to engage again with the Orlando West group I’ve worked with for 2 years to be with them when they launch a Heritage walk along one of the 16 June 1976 Protest March routes. I also want get a sense of what’s happening here to the people I know, about the current South African situation and to be here in Soweto for the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto uprising.

Soweto Uprising Heritage Walking Tours

I’ve been in Soweto since 11 April and my main involvement has been with the Orlando West group, Antoinette Sithole and Xolisile Mkhize in preparing to launch their Heritage walks. Antoinette is the main guide and also the sister of Hector Pietersen who was one of the first students shot by police on 16 June 1976. This factor is very much a unique selling point for the walks. She’s also very well known locally as a seasoned guide for school trip groups to the Hector Pietersen Museum in Orlando West. Additionally she’s known worldwide for the iconic photo of her running alongside Hector after he’d been shot. Locally and internationally she’s one of the most familiar representatives of the Soweto uprising which has given her the chance to meet local and world leaders. Xolisile is the business manager who has taken the primary role in having the Heritage Walks Company registered, worked on setting up the Website, preparing publicity for the Indaba Tourism Convention in Durban, negotiating a funded Exhibition stand there and making travel arrangements for Antoinette and her to be there. Xolisile’s mother Mamatsi has been involved in the planning and once the walks start she’ll manage the catering arrangements as the Walks include a light Township lunch.
The Heritage Walks Website is now live. In the last week I accompanied Antoinette and Xolisile to Durban where they attended the Indaba Tourism Convention (the largest Tourism event in Africa) from 6-9 May. What was exciting and reassuring for them was that visitors to the stand who were interested in the concept were very positive about prospects for the walk. A Marketing event for interested Companies will take place next week, led by Antoinette speaking about her being on the 16 June 1976 Protest March, speaking with locals on the way who were there on the day and describing events that took place as the walk proceeds. The aim of the walk will be to give a sense of how it felt to be there then. Once the Marketing event has taken place the Company will be ready to take bookings and Tourism Day on 26 September 2016 will officially launch the Walks.
What pleases me about the establishment of the Walks is that it proved that the idea I had 2 years ago about establishing a Heritage Walk was well grounded and can work for the group now involved in running the Company. I’ll also be able to end my direct involvement with the South African Company and shift my role to taking bookings in the UK for the Walks. I think that the Walks will significantly increase the Tourism footprint in Soweto. They’ll take visitors from their buses onto the streets in a safe way to gain direct insight into the Soweto Uprising and allow them to relate directly to people who were involved on the day. The Walks will also add to local incomes through 90% of all income from them going to the group organizing the Tours, which is about as close as I can think to be an example of community based tourism and add to tour opportunities locally.

My Soweto family

The people in the 2 households on Xorile Street in Orlando West are Mamatsi, her youngest child Xolisile, her partner Ismael and their 3 children Disetso, Katlego and Sanele. Mamatsi’s oldest child Tandi has a room in her backyard. Additionally Mamatsi has a grandson Jabulani who’s lived with her since early childhood. She has 2 foster children, Nellie and Augushle, Angela, an older child she fostered still lives at home and the oldest fostered child Julia who has a 1 year old child Zintle and lives independently. In another back room she has an old friend Maggie, her partner, Maggie’s daughter and granddaughter living. Mamatsi’s pension, her income as a foster carer and Xolisile’s family allowance come to around R10000 (£500) a month for 7 children and 4 adults.
Compared to my last trip the extended family situation is more challenging because their income has reduced further compared to their outgoings? Despite of this they remain impossibly optimistic, like many South Africans who believe that ‘things can only get better’ which for me as an outsider is impossibility. For me being here re-connects me to the anger I felt when I lived in South Africa because in my view so little has changed for a significant majority of South Africans.
I am however in a totally different place now, sharing life with previously oppressed citizens which have made it hard to relate to my previous contemporaries. The family are so poor and sometimes their diet is reduced through their situation. Their physical and emotional hunger can make me feel uncomfortable at times because I choose to live with them and am privileged to do so. It pains me that I can’t solve their problems because my resources aren’t sufficient. As an old style socialist the situation here shows how dangerous liberal economics is and in the end unless there’s a huge change of mind-set by the rich elite here the only solution I can envisage for my friends is to take part in joint social action here to topple this evil system. At its most basic the tax system must start to redistribute wealth significantly, education funding shift to low achieving township Schools, an independent anti-corruption police force needs to be established to investigate and if appropriate charge high profile citizens, the land rights commission must become more prominent in land restitution across the whole country and private health care needs to have a high tax attached to it in order to better resource the National Health Service.

South Africa now

What I’ve found here is a continuation of neo-liberal economic policies which make the richest 10% richer. 55% of the South African population are those who the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would call the strivers, the middle class, small shop owners, skilled workers and those on the edge of financial disaster as unskilled workers or in insecure jobs. Estimated long term unemployment is around 43%. The most striking statistic here for me is that 75% of young people between the age of 16-25 and 50% of 25-35% are unemployed. Mr Osborne would probably call this group shirkers, unemployed or unwaged for long periods of time with little prospect of ever being in secure work again.

In terms of chances to advance themselves statistics 75% of black senior managers in the private sector are white, in the public sector 75% of senior managers are black which suggests to me that inequality in South Africa hasn’t reduced significantly since majority rule in 1994. What has developed in South Africa since 1994 is a Cleptocracy which unites corrupt ANC politicians linked with large Companies and rich individuals creating opportunities for enriching themselves. In exchange for their largesse these Companies and individuals create economic advantage and there are suggestions they influence Government policies by having ANC politicians they favour being put into key Ministerial positions. Government tenders, purchase of equipment and out-sourcing of services have provided enrichment opportunities for all involved. Time however is running out for this elite because of civil society, private Media, the Courts and the Public Protector starting to challenge their privileges. My personal view is that the last phase of ANC majority rule is coming to an end with a President and those dependent on him going to extremes to obtain the last scraps before doors close.
South Africa has invented a new term here called ‘State capture’ to describe the Cleptocracy. Departments of state are directly involved in privatisation and demolition of the state in this process. Lest we feel the UK and other countries are protected from this corruption. In the UK I suggest we consider relationships between long established neo-liberal economic lobbying groups, the right wing press, other media and the Establishment with close links to the Conservative Party. Through their influence on government an alliance has been formed with key ministers and industry, all of which are focused on dismantling the Nation State as it exists. Like in South Africa handing over services through privatisation will end what remains of the welfare state. My view is that privatisation isn’t about efficiency but reducing the quality of public services. The process favours a financial sector and has allowed Banks which were directly responsible for the most recent global crisis through investment vehicles which known to be economically dangerous to once again re-establish them in funding the above policies.
It’s interesting here that in the last 1 ½ months the Judiciary has taken action to challenge political corruption. As I arrived here on 11 April a unanimous decision was made by the Constitutional Court that Mr Zuma needed to repay State financial support for building his official residence not required to enhance security. Additionally the Court found that he’d broken requirements in the South African Constitution for him in his Presidential role to show moral leadership. The President had another very bad day in Court on 29 April at the Johannesburg High Court with a verdict that the National Prosecution authority was incorrect in 2009 to end his trial for corruption which needs to be restarted. The question now is how long a further trial can be delayed and whether he can survive his whole Presidential term.
In order to end this post I want briefly to consider a comparison between South Africa and Brazil which both have Presidents facing impeachment or pressure to resign. The Brazilian President faces impeachment. This is because a coalition of Parliamentarians across all political Parties put their principles before the Parties they represent in supporting a motion to impeach their President. A similar motion in the South African parliament failed because ANC MP’s voted en bloc against it. What occurred in Brazil can’t happen here at present because corruption in the South African Parliament is so deeply embedded in the ANC. MP’s have to follow the Party to retain their privileged positions to benefit from continued corrupt payments. This factor makes impeachment impossible and requires civil society, other institutions of state and the non-state media to challenge corruption. In my view corruption isn’t limited to Parliament. Any lasting solution will need to engage with public opinion, linking with other institutions to end corruption in Provincial and City Councils. A Private Sector a Public Inquiry needs to be set up to consider the influence of Companies and rich individuals on State policies and all corrupt relationships with politicians.

Finally I’d like to inform you that Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, the most prominent Israeli critics of the countries policies are speaking on the same stage in London at London University on 25 May. For anyone interested in Palestine and Israeli issues this will be an interesting event.


Attachments didn’t work in the last Post


Hi There,

Two vigilant readers have pointed out that the articles promised in the last Post which I’ll add here because the attachments didn’t work. Sorry!


Can there be peace between Israel and Palestine? How can we help?
Remarks by Sir Vincent Fean at the University of Sheffield, 25 February 2016

I was in Jerusalem from 2010 to 2014, representing the British Government and talking
mainly to Palestinians. What I witnessed there, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, made
me want to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict tonight. It is a conflict too easily neglected.
I had the privilege of going there and seeing for myself. We neglect it at our peril.
Now retired, I will share my personal impressions of what is happening on the ground and at
the political level now; look at three options for the future in what we call the Holy Land, two
of them bad and the only good one – the solution of two states – becoming harder to achieve
by the day, and end by suggesting why we British should care, and what we can do to make
the best outcome more likely to happen. I shall talk more about Palestinians than about
anything else, because it’s best to talk about what I know something about.

What is happening now, on the ground and politically

Let’s not start from the beginning. But let’s start with the Prophet Abraham, revered by Jews,
Christians and Muslims alike. Abraham embodies the fact that all three of those great
religions belong together in the Holy Land, and have so much in common. They teach
peace, justice and mercy. So let no one tell you that this conflict is about religion. It could go
that way, into sectarian strife – but at heart, it’s about land, power, control, security and the
well-being of two peoples who are cousins.

There are two strongly competing narratives – one Israeli Jewish, one Palestinian Arab. Both
peoples feel a sense of victimhood, past or present. Both narratives deserve respect, but
you don’t need to believe just the one, and espousing one to the exclusion of the other
doesn’t actually help. Nor does it help to assimilate an entire people with the actions of a
government. That mistake is too often made. Today, what we have is the State of Israel
recognized on pre-1967 war lines by almost all the world including, very importantly, by the
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and neighboring Egypt and Jordan. In 1967 Israel
won a war and occupied what I today call Palestine–East Jerusalem, the West Bank of the
River Jordan and the Gaza Strip. That Israeli-occupied area is recognised as a state – the
State of Palestine – by two thirds of the members of the United Nations, including China,
Russia and India, but not by the USA or most of the European Union, including the United
Kingdom. I advocate recognition of Palestine. Recognition matters, which is why it is not
easy to obtain.

On the ground, the Occupation inevitably causes friction. To put it bluntly, one people’s army
is bossing around another people, who resent that fact. During this 49 year occupation there
have been a number of uprisings by Palestinians, overpowered by Israel, for Israel has the
power, including three Gaza wars – the last in 2014. The cease fire between Hamas in Gaza
and Israel has held since then, but is very precarious. Elsewhere in Palestine and Israel, in
recent weeks we have seen desperate and totally futile individual acts of violence, often by
very young Palestinians, against Israelis – both military and civilian. These acts are hard to
prevent – they look and are spontaneous, unplanned, uncoordinated. Often the perpetrators
are killed on the spot. Their violence is to be deplored, condemned outright. We should also
ask what drives them to desperate acts. Where is their hope for a better tomorrow, for the
sort of future we seek for our own children?

Politically, there is next to no communication between the Israeli and Palestinian
leaderships, between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. Each side talks to the
Americans, to the EU – but barely to each other, except for megaphone diplomacy, at which
Israel is much, much better than the Palestinians. It does not help at all that the Palestinians
are politically as well as administratively divided, between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah, the
PLO or the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Western diplomatic efforts focus on the
PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, as agreed in the Oslo
Accords, and the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate authority in Gaza, which it is.
Currently the PLO excludes Hamas, though Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary
election back in 2006, and won fairly.

The Americans traditionally lead on efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
It is for debate whether the Americans are neutral, unbiased. In any event, since Secretary
Kerry’s valiant effort failed almost 1 year ago, the USA have signed off. This is a Presidential
election year in the US. Obama wants his Democratic Party to win, and taking risks for
peace in the Holy Land by challenging Israeli policies is a risk too far. Optimists would say
that this is an opportunity for the EU to fill the vacuum, but EU policy on this conflict is of the
lowest common denominator type – the opposite of adventurous or assertive. If you thought
that the Quartet – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – had folded its tent and faded into the
night, you might be forgiven for thinking that, since it has achieved so little. But it continues
to exist, and is working on a policy document setting out what needs to be done. I am not
holding my breath. That leaves the French. I am not saying much about our Government –
their mind is elsewhere – an error we can correct, but for now let’s focus on the French, as
our partners and rivals in EU foreign policy formulation. They propose an international
conference on the conflict this summer. Today Abbas is keen and Netanyahu is cool, but has
yet to say no. He was irritated by the remark of France’s then Foreign Minister, Laurent
Fabius, last month that if the conference fails to come about, or fails to work, then France will
recognise the State of Palestine, albeit under Occupation. I have long admired, and
sometimes been jealous of, French diplomacy. I think they’ve got this right.

Three possible outcomes to the Israel/Palestine conflict

I believe we are at a decisive point in this conflict. I see three possible ways ahead. Only one
of them is actually a way forward. The first is more of the same – the status quo continued. That means continued illegal Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, contrary to the 4th Geneva
Convention, and the continued closure of Gaza, locking in 1.8 million people – most of them
under university age. It means chronic violence in and from Gaza – if nothing changes, the
conditions for violence there will recur. It probably means a continuation of the sporadic
violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and indeed in Green Line Israel proper.
Israel’s security forces are strong and well practiced in preemption, though not always with
proportionate use of force. In the last Gaza war Israel’s use of force was not proportionate,
and Israel’s international standing suffered as a result. Israel will continue down this spiral as
long as she maintains the Occupation.

The words “status quo” have a seductively reassuring ring – an air of continuity, pause for
breath, time to take stock. This status quo is different – it’s dynamic, with already 650,000
Israeli illegal settlers on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, and more coming every year.
That’s over 10% of the Israeli voting population: an increasingly influential political force.
This status quo suits some Israelis – by no means all Israelis – but no Palestinians at all. To
me, it risks meaning the end of the EU’s favoured option of two contiguous sovereign states
on ’67 lines sharing Jerusalem as the capital of both – in other words, the demise of the two
state solution, and thus of the agreed aim of the international community for the last 25
years or more. I think that’s bad for Israelis, and I know it’s bad for Palestinians. It’s bad for
Israel’s international standing. It means the army of one people continuing to boss another
people, with corrosive effect on both peoples. It’s bad for Palestinians because it deprives
them of the sovereign state to which they aspire in Gaza, the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, and thus of the opportunity to invest in that state, to make something of it, to give
their children prospects. The absence of those prospects is daunting.

The second possible outcome is more clear-cut, but with the same result: it’s called the one state
outcome, or the ”bi-national state” – ie two peoples in one state – which Mr Netanyahu
swears will never happen. There are some in his cabinet who favour illegally annexing the
countryside of the West Bank, just as Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. It is a
short step from there to the assimilation of the West Bank into “Greater Israel”, bringing 3 or
– if you included Gaza – 5 million Palestinians into a state created explicitly for the Jewish
people. If those people had equal rights, the present Jewish majority in Israel might lose
power. That’s not what Mr Netanyahu is about. Nor do I favour the one state outcome. I fear
it would not be a state of equality, of equal rights for all, in my lifetime. To use a word that
Secretary Kerry whispered, quite deliberately, it would be an apartheid state.
One major drawback of both these outcomes is that they internalize and perpetuate
violence, because they perpetuate the Occupation of 1967 and the illegalities inherent in the
conduct of that Occupation. Both deprive a people – the Palestinian people – of hope.
The third outcome is the one which the West has urged on the two parties to this conflict for
decades – a two state solution which ends the 1967 Occupation while safeguarding the
security of both Israelis and Palestinians and beginning to undo the harm caused by
decades of mutual suspicion, of mistrust, of hatred. Easier said than done, as the last 49
years of Occupation have proved. This outcome needs work, lots of it, and lots of moral
courage. It entails risk – more risk for Israel than for the Palestinians, because the Israeli
authorities now exercise control of the Palestinian territory and the people through the
Occupation, and will be expected to give it up. For it to work, Palestinians will need to
exercise new-found power responsibly. Some of the 650,000 settlers will have to go home to
Green Line Israel. Otherwise, there is no contiguous Palestinian state – just a collection of
Palestinian bantustans in the West Bank.

We are not close to an equitable two-state outcome today, and many Palestinians say that it
is a pipe-dream – so very far from the grim reality they live. But it remains the best available
outcome for both peoples, and for us here. It’s pretty clear what’s in it for the Palestinians –
though it does not address all of their concerns, including the plight of Palestinian refugees
from 1948 and 1967. For Israelis to embrace the change, the goal of enhanced security for
their children needs to be attainable, and credible – and the alternatives, including the status
quo, need to become much less appealing, less comfortable. There is a security role here for
the US, for NATO, for the EU. There is a major role for the Arab states, offering recognition
for Israel, trade with and investment with Israel, based on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
There is a role for us British, as a concerned friend of both peoples: first warning of
consequences for any illegal acts by either party, and then following through consistently if
those illegal acts are repeated. Our Governments talk the talk, but hesitate to do more than

Some say that Israel would be foolish to withdraw in a phased manner from the land
occupied in 1967 – just look at the turmoil in the neighbourhood… The counter-argument is
that no one in his right mind is asking Israel to disarm – but Israel’s long-term interest lies in
a peace treaty with the Palestinians such as Israel has negotiated with Jordan and Egypt.
Those vital peace treaties, and the turmoil in Syria and elsewhere, mean that today there is
absolutely no strategic threat to Israel from any of her Arab neighbours, unlike 1948 or, most
recently, 1973. At the same time, there is genuine urgency: an equitable two state solution is
disappearing before our eyes. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Hope is dwindling
– to many Palestinians, their situation is hopeless, and that is dangerous.
Why we should care, and what we can do.

So, what’s it to us? The answer depends on who we think we are, and what we stand for.
What are our values, and where do our interests lie? We have “form” on this conflict, going
back even before the Balfour Declaration whose centenary is on 2 November next year. In
1917 our Foreign Secretary said: “Her Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which
may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
Part two of that Declaration, that promise, is still unfinished business. Our unfinished
business. In my view, only the creation of the Palestinian state alongside Israel will complete

I commend to you the work of a group of British academics and people of faith who have
joined together in the Balfour Project – – to shed light on that corner
of our country’s history, for the benefit of our young people and those charged with their
education. The Project promotes justice, security and peace for Israelis and for Palestinians.
We British co wrote the 4th Geneva Convention, after World War 2. Israel and the
Palestinians – the PLO – have signed and ratified it. Israel’s conduct of this Occupation does
not conform to that Convention – it breaches it in several regards: the settlements are illegal,
as is the Separation Barrier or Wall wherever it trespasses on Palestinian soil, which is often;
the closure of Gaza, banning movement to the West Bank, is in effect collective punishment.

There are other examples. This is not to condone the terrifying and indiscriminate rocket fire
from Gaza, currently suspended – nor the stabbings and other violence to which I have
referred. But two wrongs do not make a right. Justice requires an even handed approach if
we really want to end this conflict, not just manage it. Expediency suggests trying to manage
it – and diplomats are familiar with expediency – but the right thing to do is to try to end this
conflict, which has poisoned and stunted the region for 50 years and more.

Politically, what can be done? France shows us the way. The international conference will
only work if Israel sees opportunity for a better future not just with her nearest neighbours,
the Palestinians, but with the entire Arab world – and sees that she is losing altitude
internationally through her conduct of the Occupation. France is prepared to recognise the
state of Palestine on ’67 lines if the conference doesn’t happen, or doesn’t work. Recognition
of Palestine is in the gift of our Government, who are reluctant to do it. But there is an urgent
need to save the two state outcome – what better way to do so than to legitimize and
strengthen the voice of moderate, non-violent Palestinians, without in any way delegitimising
the state of Israel? Where France leads, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and others will follow. The
message to the parties will be so much stronger if HM Government work with France on this
issue. It matters greatly that Britain and France, the two European members of the UN
Security Council, should work in concert, objectively, giving primacy to security for both
peoples in Israel/Palestine and to upholding International Law.

There are British interests as well as British values at stake. The self-styled Islamic State or
Da’esh makes much of its call to “liberate” the al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, the third
most holy shrine in Islam. Da’esh will do nothing of the kind, of course – but its sinister and
efficient propaganda machine denounces the double standards of the West, including the
United Kingdom, and claims that Israel acts as if she is above the law, with impunity. Some
British youths may be swayed by this line. There is anecdotal evidence to support this. It is
directly in our own security interest to uphold International Law without fear or favour – and
to be seen to do so. That will confound Islamic State, which has misappropriated and
abused the name of a great religion.

And finally – what can we in this room do? We should do what we can, while heeding the
wise words – “Do no harm”. Those of us with political influence – and that’s all of us in this
democracy – should argue for more from our elected representatives than just DFID funding
for Palestinians and ritual diplomatic condemnation of Israel when she creates new, illegal
facts on the ground. Leaving this conflict to fester harms Israelis, Palestinians and us. So we
should give everybody a hard time – but exerting maximum influence where we have the
greatest clout, and on those with the greatest ability to change things. We should start with
our own Government, because it is nearest to home, and we have great influence on it. Of
the two parties, Israel has the power, and occupies the land. Palestinians need to reunite,
and hold free, fair elections – the result of which we should respect.

Sheffield, this excellent university, is doing good things with Israeli and Palestinian students,
including a valuable Gaza connection. I am delighted that public health student Hind al Alami
from Gaza is here with us. In all of Palestine, Gaza is in the greatest need of skilled people
to do what their community needs most. There is always more for Sheffield to do. Israel is
well served by her universities. The Palestinians are the ones in greater need – their
universities lack funding, external support and, in the case of Gaza, room to breathe. They
need joint research projects, partners in bids for EU programmes – you name it. Israeli and
Palestinian universities are centres of excellence, shaping the minds of the next generation.
In partnership with Sheffield and like-minded British universities, they can only get better –
and it’s a two way street. The same goes for community links, church links, school links. I
happen to be the patron of the Britain Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network (BPFTN),
whose volunteer members do much good. In their spare time they come together locally to
link with Palestine or a locality in Palestine – helping people there to feel less isolated, more
valued, not forgotten. Please look at their website –
With regard to Israel, I do not favour academic boycotts – as an ex diplomat, I believe in
talking, in the power of persuasion. There is one exception, and it is not in Israel. There is a
college in Ariel, an illegal Israeli settlement in the middle of the Palestinian West Bank. Mr
Netanyahu elevated it to university status a couple of years ago, against the advice of the
relevant Israeli academic body. The German Government has written to all German
universities advising them to have nothing to do with Ariel. That’s my advice, too.
To conclude: yes, there can be peace between Israel and Palestine, if we act evenhandedly
and encourage our partners to do so. Inertia will kill the two state solution – which remains
the best and just solution.

Of our Government and elected representatives I ask more activism, more willingness to
speak the truth to power, to call things by their name, and to uphold the international laws we
wrote. I ask them to work with France and other EU partners to legitimise the non-violent
voices in Palestine through recognition of the State of Palestine, removing a potent
propaganda weapon from Islamic State while doing the right thing.
Of this right minded University, I ask for a fresh outreach effort to both Israel and to Palestine
– taking into account who needs us the more. Israel has America, no question. Palestine
needs us, and we do well to recognise that fact – and that state.

Ceasefire of hostilities or Ceasefire 28/02/2016

The ceasefire in Syria that took effect on Saturday was part of a negotiated deal, based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, passed in December 2015. The deal that contained three main commitments around humanitarian access, a negotiated ceasefire and a political transition was reached in Munich by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), a group of international actors mandated to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict. The ISSG, which includes major regional actors, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, as well as regional bodies, such as the Arab League and the European Union, has emerged out of previous attempts, notably the Geneva process, to negotiate a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
The major difference between the ISSG’s success in negotiating a deal in February had little to do with its structure or political agreement among the key sides. Instead, the February deal has everything to do with the changing dynamics on the ground and the ability of Russia and its allies to impose a political vision for ending the conflict that suits their interests. Below are answers to some key questions about what these commitments entail, what their chances of success are, and how the Munich agreement may shape the future of Syria.
What does the ceasefire in Syria mean on the ground? Which areas will observe it and which areas will not?
In theory, the ceasefire should apply to all of Syria. However, Russia has insisted that, along with its allied forces, it reserve the right to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Nusra Front forces as these two groups are outside the framework of the ceasefire, as are other groups labelled as ‘terrorist’ by the UN. This means that the ceasefire is not geographically demarcated. This exception to the ceasefire is very problematic, however, because Russian forces have attacked many rebel groups and civilian areas under the justification of attacking ISIL and Nusra. The commitment to a political transition envisaged through the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is unlikely to generate resources and energy at this point when so much focus is on the ceasefire.

These two groups have become convenient scapegoats for Russian attacks throughout Syria. Russia has essentially reserved the right to militarily engage any armed groups in Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIL and Nusra. The United States has been working with Russia in an attempt to designate whether certain areas are ceasefire-abiding areas or not, but they have yet to agree on the specific geographic contours of the agreement. The absence of such contours will give Russia greater military latitude. Practically speaking, this means that large swaths of Syrian territory in which these groups are present, particularly in the eastern and northwestern parts of the country, will remain active conflict zones. Groups outside of the ceasefire, such as Ahrar al-Sham and others labelled as terrorist groups, remain present in parts of Homs and Hama provinces, as well as near Damascus, meaning these areas also potentially lie outside of the ceasefire zones.

What are the chances of the ceasefire holding and for how long? What could it hold and why might it not?
The ceasefire is unlikely to hold for three main reasons: First, Russia and its allies have reserved the right to attack forces outside of the ceasefire. This means that any violence on the ground that is committed by Russia or regime-led forces can be justified within the framework of the Munich agreement and the ceasefire under the pretense of fighting ISIL. As such, Russia can have its cake and eat it, too; it has reserved the right to militarily engage armed groups while demanding that they cease all hostilities. Second, there are simply thousands of small, organised brigades in Syria that have little interest in a cessation of hostilities. There is a network of armed groups who have benefitted handsomely from the conflict and for whom a ceasefire may threaten them and their activities. It is counterintuitive; however, it is important to note that not all of the violence in Syria is driven by meta political issues, such as trying to overthrow the regime, and that there are micro political issues, such as security and smuggling, that also motivate armed groups.

With little incentive aside from the possible reprieve from Russian bombing, it is unlikely that many of these groups will be motivated to observe the ceasefire. Third, most of the rebel groups inside of Syria cooperate with other groups on the battlefield. This cooperation has as much to do with their political or ideological affinities as it does their relative strengths and weaknesses and need to build alliances to make military gains. Thus, very few armed groups inside Syria operate independently of other groups, blurring the distinctions between them. Isolating a few groups as outside of the ceasefire betrays the organisational structure of violence on the ground and the reality that most groups cooperate on the battlefield.

How many of the rebel groups have committed to the ceasefire?

According to the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), more than 100 rebel factions agreed to abide by the terms of the ceasefire. Many of the stronger rebel groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, are outside of the terms of the ceasefire as they are labelled as terrorist groups and remain subject to attacks. This will complicate and weaken the ceasefire as both of these groups are known to cooperate with opposition-backed armed groups committed to the ceasefire. The greatest chance for success of the ceasefire is if there is significant compliance over the initial two-week period and that this brings different groups – whether officially or not – under the umbrella of the ceasefire.

What are the chances that humanitarian aid will reach the besieged areas?

While chances that the ceasefire will hold are slim, the agreement will likely lead to enhanced humanitarian access throughout the country. Humanitarian airlifts are about to begin the delivery of relief to besieged areas, and there are agreements between regime and opposition forces to lift sieges imposed on specific towns and villages. This includes Madaya, where a devastating siege by regime forces has been in place for months. Creating and maintaining access to areas in need should be reinforced by a large commitment of ISSG members to provide medicines, food, and other necessities. Unfortunately, the agreement does not carry stipulations for levels of humanitarian aid as it focuses solely on creating access.

Will the ceasefire lead to a political transition?

Advancing a political transition is the third goal of the agreement but is the least likely to generate any interest among the main parties at this point. At this point, international efforts have been focused on efforts where there is relative agreement specifically on the need for a ceasefire and creating humanitarian access. The contours of a political transition remain very contentious, and while the Western world is gravitating towards the Russian position on the architecture of a political transition, there is enough resistance from the political opposition and regional states to prevent a consensus on the issue. The commitment to a political transition envisaged through the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is unlikely to generate resources and energy at this point when so much focus is on the ceasefire.

Can there be peace between Israel and Palestine and Syria today


Dear All,

Continuing my current theme I’ve attached above a copy of a speech made by Sir Vincent Fear, ex-UK Ambassador to Palestine which I think is very interesting and titled ‘Can there be peace between Israel and Palestine?’ He’s given his permission to send it and I’d welcome any responses. Regarding Syria I’ve cut and pasted an Al Jazeera article about the current cessation of hostilities/ Case fire there which is pessimistic about the change holding in the longer term, however noting the importance of the event for humanitarian aid, again I’d welcome responses.



Can Anything Save the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process and overnight Reports about Syria


Published by the United States Institute of Peace:
November 13, 2015
By: Nancy Lindborg

Hi There,

A friend of mine sent me the article below about the Palestine-Israel conflict, which is interesting, adopting a neutral position. Overnight there may have been a shift in the Syrian crisis after a meeting yesterday in Munich between John Kerry, US Secretary of State and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who announced an agreement over ‘Cessation of hostilities’ in Syria and delivering human aid. While the outline of these changes remain unclear what the agreement shows is the potential for significant changes to take place when world powers can agree on action. This could form a model for a UN based intervention in the Palestine-Israel conflict for re-establishing the peace process there.

As the decades-long struggle threatens to boil over, there are four concrete steps the international community can take to help the peace along. In Jerusalem, the view of the golden glow of Old City walls from Mount Zion at sunset presents a deceptive calm. All around, rising tensions are threatening to turn the frozen political struggle between Israelis and Palestinians into a far more intractable religious conflict. Spurred on by clashes at the Temple Mount, increasing violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank and heightened security measures, the long-running conflict has reached a new, dangerous moment.
During a recent visit, I heard from both Israelis and Palestinians that people have lost faith in their political leaders and no longer have a framework or a vision for the future. The Oslo Accords, once a beacon of hope, are now seen by the youth as a crumbling foundation for peace that — after 20 years of failure — no longer have credibility. In Jerusalem, Jews and Palestinians avoid traveling into particular neighbourhoods for fear of verbal or physical attacks; cement bollards are shifted around to cordon off areas seen to be at risk; and Palestinian neighbourhoods are blocked off by police checkpoints, with access closely controlled. A group of Palestinian civil society leaders I met with have spent their lives working on resolving conflicts in their communities but are now anxious about their own children’s deep-seated anger and despair.
In a conflict that has spanned decades, has generated a near cottage industry of conflict resolution and peace-building interventions, and has repeatedly defied diplomatic solutions, what can be done? A White House official told reporters on Nov. 6, in preparation for this week’s visit to the White House by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that U.S. President Barack Obama has made a “realistic assessment” that “there will not be a comprehensive final status agreement in the remainder of his term” between Israel and the Palestinians. But the U.S. administration also said it would continue to press for concerted steps toward a two-state solution, and on Monday, President Obama reportedly followed through on that in his discussions with the prime minister.
The United States, the international community, and the parties themselves can’t afford to let the status quo take hold with only security-focused solutions and no vision or hope for a more promising future. Instead, the international community should pursue the opportunities that do exist to help lay the groundwork for an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace.
First the international community should begin by encouraging and supporting Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations that are working to address their own societies’ internal divisions and fostering opportunities for divided communities to coalesce around a shared vision for a peaceful future. Increasing fragmentation within both Israeli and Palestinian societies is a symptom as well as a cause of the abandonment of any active peace process. On the Palestinian side, wavering faith in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, its ongoing split with Hamas as it continues to rule Gaza, and the isolation of East Jerusalem hamper the development of a unified vision. On the Israeli side, communities are likewise divided across ideological, political, ethnic and religious lines.
Palestinian activists in both the West Bank and Jerusalem who lead conflict resolution initiatives — some between Israelis and Palestinians, some within Palestinian society itself — consistently emphasized to me the need for dialogue within their own society to build a common understanding for the road ahead. This observation was also echoed in Israel where I spoke with directors and participants of the initiative Talking Peace, which engages influential Israeli leaders from conflicting ideological camps for sustained dialogue about Middle East peace. Listening to secular peace activists and religious nationalists describe their joint work to overcome deep political differences underscored how a more civil discourse about peace is critical for contributing to a social and political environment that can withstand tough political decisions.
Second, it is critical to stop this conflict from morphing from a political struggle that can be resolved, into a religious clash poisoned by irreconcilable differences. The recent Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif agreement to place cameras around the area to ensure adherence to mutually agreed standards is a useful first step in dealing with this particularly sensitive piece of real estate, and a nod to the idea that space can be peacefully shared between Jews and Muslims. This message needs to be promoted not only in the shared spaces of Jerusalem, but also via more constructive language from political and civil society leaders on both sides.
Interfaith efforts that engage religious leaders with legitimacy in their communities are a vital tool here, and should be encouraged. The Jerusalem office of Search for Common Ground, a grantee of the United States Institute of Peace, provides one such example. In partnership with the Jerusalem Intercultural Centre, they are working to create a committee of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders to jointly address interfaith friction on Mount Zion, a potential model for cooperation around other sites holy to different religions.
Third, practical steps are urgently needed to raise the quality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Gaza, for example, has the highest unemployment rate in the world, and 75 per cent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are now, according to May figures from The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, reportedly living below the poverty line.
Efforts at political progress, therefore, must be matched by robust measures to change economic conditions. In East Jerusalem, this includes greater access to decent jobs, housing, and education. In the West Bank, it includes loosening restrictions on access to land, water, and energy. In Gaza, it includes finally rebuilding destroyed housing and opening up trade. The Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, the international community, and the business sector all have vital roles to play here.
Finally, a consistent theme I heard from Israelis and Palestinians was the crucial need for U.S. government leadership in helping both sides focus again on the way forward, and the dangerous risk of waiting two years for another U.S. administration to take up the challenge. While Obama has indicated in recent days that a push to new negotiations is not in the cards, his discussions with Netanyahu on the question of maintaining momentum towards a two-state solution is a move in the right direction.
In the absence of negotiations, the United States should not just articulate its interest in a two-state end game, but should exert its significant influence with both parties to prevent actions that foreclose that option and to take meaningful steps on the ground that move toward this goal. In this vein, it is imperative that the United States reinforce its long-held position that the continuing growth of settlements poses a serious obstacle to the eventual achievement of a two-state solution.
With the broader region consumed by wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, as well as the massive outflow of refugees to Europe, and the viral terrorism of the Islamic State, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a hard time competing for attention and resources. But the failure of the United States and its allies to act will only lead to escalating cycles of desperation and violence that will surely require even greater international attention and resources later, while also eroding any potential to resolve the conflict in the longer term. Absent a political horizon to replace the current despair, the path ahead will look increasingly grim.

Mish Mash- Maintaining a peaceful stand in a violent environment- Palestinian contrast between hopelessness and hope


Dear All,
I’ve wanted to post for some time but other involvements I have prevented this. I think the long article below from the Guardian is bleak and shows the numerous threats of violence in Palestine. What’s important is a sense that the violence isn’t a sign of strength by Palestinians but deep despair that the prospects for peace with Israel are low. This is with a backdrop of violent responses to random attacks by Israeli Palestinians in Israel which have created deep fear amongst Israelis and attacks on the West bank. I think what Raja Shehadin has written in his most recent book on which I’ve included a commentary and Riad Arar’s latest news about his younger son Amro’s son show that while they are strongly opposed to the occupation they retain the dream of a free Palestine despite the lack of clear leadership at present.

West Bank risks being plunged into chaos in 2016, warn Palestinian officials Peter Beaumont in Ramallah
Rising support among Palestinians for wave of attacks on Israelis comes amid growing vacuum of political leadership. Friday 25 December 2015

Palestinian officials are warning that the occupied West Bank risks being plunged into chaos in 2016, with no sign of three months of violence coming to an end and support growing among Palestinians for the current wave of attacks on Israelis. The warnings that the status quo is untenable follow recent comments by both senior US figures and the Israeli military that the risk of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is in danger of increasing in the coming months. A growing vacuum of political leadership on both sides is prompting renewed discussion of a series of troubling scenarios, including a collapse of the Palestinian Authority and a sudden or more gradual escalation of violence.
The PA’s potential collapse has been raised by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, and was discussed recently at a special Israeli cabinet meeting. “The risk is total chaos,” said one Palestinian official in a bleak assessment, suggesting that the path to further escalation appeared more obvious than international engagement to mediate an end to the recent bloodshed. “It won’t happen tomorrow but it is also not so very far away.” The renewed concern over the trajectory of present tensions has emerged as attacks by Palestinians on Israelis have settled into an almost daily routine, prompting Israel to announce this week that it is to deploy two new army battalions on the West Bank.

Since 1 October 2015, a combination of almost daily attacks by Palestinians and clashes with Israeli soldiers have killed 117 on the Palestinian side, 21 Israelis, an American and an Eritrean, while thousands more have been injured. Many of the Palestinians killed have been attackers, while others have been shot dead by Israeli security forces during clashes. With no hint of a respite, Palestinian leaders now appear trapped in a catch-22 situation over the continuing violence, which they neither lead nor feel able to fully condone or disavow.
With the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s strategy to internationalise the Palestinian issue at the UN apparently at an impasse, senior leaders seem to have been caught out by the changing context in the region – now dominated by concern over the rise of Islamic State – paired with the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw from mediation efforts. And while attempts by the Palestinian security forces to prevent violence worsening have so far been largely successful, some fear privately that in the longer term members of the security forces might themselves become disaffected. Speaking recently to an audience of journalists and diplomats in Bethlehem, Mohammed Shtayyeh, head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction and a former negotiator close to Abbas, articulated an official formulation increasingly under threat from events.
“The Fatah political programme adopted in 2009 called for massive popular resistance. We are fully engaged in this popular resistance. But we are not asking people to carry knives because we don’t want our children to die.” Referring to the tensions between wider Palestinian society and the Palestinian leadership, he added: “The question for our leadership and for President Abbas is: how long can we maintain the situation on the ground?” It is a question that has been asked increasingly in recent months. At the heart of the problem for Abbas is the growing tension between the wider Palestinian society and the Palestinian leadership.
That dynamic was starkly underlined by the latest opinion survey released in late December 2015 by the leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. It showed that less than a third of Palestinians believed the current situation would stay at the present level or diminish. Instead, the researchers observed “a growing majority supporting return to an armed intifada; and a growing majority continues to reject the two-state solution”. While support for Abbas himself has not worsened, according to the latest polling 65% would still like him to resign. An increasing number back Hamas, which the polls suggest would win if elections were held today, with only the imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti posing a potential challenge to the Islamist group. “There is no doubt the whole Abbas decade is coming to an end,” Shikaki told the Guardian last week. “The Palestinian public is questioning not just the strategy vis-a-vis Israel and the peace process, but questioning Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
“There is no doubt what we are seeing is a president who single handedly created the status quo after the second intifada and who is now not only at a loss over what to do but also has nothing to show for his strategy. His threat to dismantle Oslo 1993 peace agreements is a reflection of his own disillusionment and the fact he lost legitimacy in ability to lead.
“Today it’s not clear whether he will be able do anything to stem the tide or if he will have to follow the public, particularly the most important sector – the youth behind most of the instability.” A sense of the disconnect was given by Abbas himself in December 2015 “We cannot ask the youth: ‘Why did you start it?’ They aren’t stupid, the youth gave up hope for a two-state solution. They’ve checked and understood that it’s not logically possible, that our state doesn’t exist because of settlements and checkpoints, and so despair began to take hold of them. ”Abbas’s strategy, however, has been to articulate once again demands already rejected by Israel, including the release of prisoners and a freeze on settlement building.
Rajoub, a former Palestinian security head and now leader of the Palestinian Football Association is another figure who remains close to Abbas. Like Shtayyeh, he insists that Palestinian society should pursue a policy of non-violent resistance but cannot disavow those behind the current wave of attacks, instead arguing that Palestinians need to be patient. “For me those people behind the attacks are victims, victims,” he said. Rajoub encapsulates the Palestinian leadership’s difficulty in insisting on a strategy of non-violence while also seeking to explain the attacks. “Non-violence cannot come from one side. It needs to come from both sides not one. It’s a reaction. “I think the situation is very complicated,” he added. “The feeling of losing hope has started to infiltrate the political spectrum, from left to right, from the grassroots to the old men.”
That picture is confirmed by Shikaki’s research, which since September has shown a sharp convergence of support for violence between the so-called Oslo generation aged 18-25 and Palestinians over 50. Both groups are now polling in favour at over 60%. If Rajoub is not alone in voicing his frustration, what is clear too is that the febrile mood is multiplying divisions inside the PLO and Fatah at a critical time and at all levels, between senior figures advocating different approaches and between the old guard and a younger generation.
“There is an ongoing debate and there is a lot of internal criticism,” said one official familiar with the internal conversations that have been taking place in recent weeks and months, seeing some kind of crisis as inevitable regardless of what the Palestinian leadership decides. “I think you are going to have a big crisis if PLO central council decisions aren’t implemented,” he said referring to long-threatened moves including ending security cooperation with Israel. “And you may also have a crisis if they are implemented. People reject Oslo. But they also have to live. They want hospitals working and schools and the jobs provided by the Palestinian Authority even if they are bad jobs. Most people I know say they don’t like Oslo but they can’t describe an alternative.”

From the negative perspective provided above I want to move onwards to Raja Shehadin, a well-known Palestinian author and lawyer who strongly opposes the occupation. I’ve read his most recent book, ‘Language of war, Language of peace, Palestine, Israel and the search for Justice’. I agree with the description of the book on the cover that ‘he explores the language of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reflecting on the walls they create-they create-legal and cultural-that confines today’s Palestinians, just like the borders, checkpoints and the so called ‘Separation barrier.’ He shows how the peace process on the ground has been ground to a halt by twists of language and linguistic chicanery that have degraded the word peace itself. The situation at the world’s greatest political fault-line has never looked bleaker, but still Shehadin finds reason to hope and explains why’.

I’d also like to include Riad Arar’s latest news about his younger son Amro, sent on 18 January 2016. On 14 January Amro appeared in the Military Court which refused to release him even with an admission of guilt and payment of a fine and the Hearing was adjourned to 8 February. Riad saw him in the cage with 4 other children who were in military clothing. To Riad Amro seemed too young, like a small child. When he saw Riad he started to smile but when he tried to leave after 5 minutes he cried hard. Riad spoke with his lawyer who plans to meet with the Prosecution to discuss Amro’s case who pleaded guilty after torture and threats because he wants the file to be closed to protect his family. Riad understands from Amro that during the investigation that Shaback, Israel’s internal security service told Amro if he didn’t talk and confess they’ll say he’s a spy of theirs.
I think that Riad and Raja Shehadin are similar in the way that they extract hope from a very bleak situation. What distinguishes Riad however is that even with his personal experience of detention by the Israeli army he works with DCA Palestine delivering a project which focuses on non-violent opposition to Israeli occupation and for young people to engage with creating Palestine as a civil society. His view hasn’t changed despite of the arrests of his sons Noor and Amro even though these events have been traumatic on Riad and his family. It takes a strong character to maintain that viewpoint in a society where hope is under real pressure and the current leaders lose credibility as shown in the Guardian article with this post. I greatly admire Riad for his stand, Palestine and Israel need more peacemakers like him possibly with similar attitudes like Nelson Mandela who can see beyond the continuing oppression and violence the prospects of peace and justice.

More news from Riad


Dear All,
I’m sending an email I received from Riad on 12 January 2016 about the recent of Amro his 15 year old son and notes I took from a Skype call I had with Riad on 11 January. I’ve made minor changes to his spelling and grammar.
He wrote:
Greetings from Palestine
On Sunday 10th Jan I went to O’fer prison to see Amro in the military court and in same day my wife went to visit my son Noor who is in the same prison. Amro is still strong and sends regards to you. He told me that the Israeli soldiers had beaten him on his nose and threatened him through the investigation to force him to confess and they told him if you don’t confess we are planning to arrest you, your father and your brothers. Amro decided to talk and he confessed that he threw 2 stones to close his file and to protect his family (which he didn’t do in reality). Anyway they adjourned the Court Hearing to this Thursday in order to see how Amro’s lawyer can use all the information which Amro told him in his legal defence
All the best
Riad Arar.
In addition to what Riad wrote above he told me that there’d been 2 occasions before 2 January when Israeli soldiers came to the family home for Amro who’s 15 years old. These were on 2 November and 2 December 2015. Riad said that the raids always took place early in the morning and involved at least 30 soldiers. Riad told me that on 2 January the soldiers broke down doors to enter the home, were very aggressive, swearing at him and his wife and pushing them with both younger children present. They had to watch Amro being placed on the floor and having his arms secured behind his back before he was taken away. Tariq who is the youngest child was very distressed by the event.
Riad said that Amro had expected to be arrested on 2 January and told him that this was the day the soldiers usually visited the home. He’d stayed with relative before the arrest to prepare for his final exam in English and receive extra tuition. Riad is worried if Amro isn’t released quickly he’ll miss important exams.
Riad said that when he saw Amro on 10 January he’d clearly been beaten, with bruises on his face and damage to his nose. Otherwise he said he was fine and sent best wishes to everyone. Riad’s been advised by Amro’s lawyer that it may be possible for Amro to plead guilty to the offence of throwing 2 stones in Court on 14 January even though Amro has told him this is untrue. He’ll be fined if it works, the case closed and he’ll be released. While Riad is troubled by Amro admitting to the offences he understands why Amro wants to do so to close the case and be released. Riad has heard that other young people and their parents face similar dilemmas in the Courts.
I asked Riad how they’re coping with the latest events. He told me that their experience isn’t unusual and to carry on using ‘Summud, a deep determination to continue opposing the Israeli occupation and maintains his support of passive resistance to the oppression. Riad sends his best wishes to all who know him.

Quick post


Dear all,

3 matters. The article referred to below is worth reading, mainly for the meaning of ‘Summed’ which translates as persistent courage, see the Link that also a piece that mentions the Trauma Conference… I’m just finishing ‘Language of War, Language of peace’ by Raja Shenadeh. He’s an amazing author in the way he’s able to put anger down on the page and still show compassion. Radio 4 the morning at 645am had an mother/daughter interview about Anorexia. It’ll be broadcast again at 530pm today.
Will try put together another post before year end.