Tuesday, April 22, 2014

US Pursues ‘Peace’ on Israel’s Terms

Martin Indyk speaking at the Aspen Institute in March 2009. (Photo: The Aspen Institute/Flickr)
Martin Indyk speaking at the Aspen Institute in March 2009. (Photo: The Aspen Institute/Flickr)
By Ramzy Baroud
To understand how thoughtless the latest US “peace process” drive has become, one only needs to consider some of the characters involved in this political theatre. One in particular who stands out is Martin Indyk.
Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, was last July selected by Secretary of State John Kerry as special envoy for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Under normal circumstances, the selection appears rational. Former ambassadors often possess the impartial expertise needed to navigate challenging political landscapes in countries where they previously served. But these are not normal circumstances, and Indyk is hardly seen as a neutral figure.
As the US-sponsored peace process began to falter earlier this month, Kerry dispatched Indyk to Jerusalem. On 18 April, Indyk took on the task of speaking to both sides separately. International media depicted the event as a last-ditch effort to bridge gaps between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The visit took place a day after intense talks between Israeli and PA negotiators. “No breakthrough was made,” an official Palestinian source told AFP of the Thursday meeting.
It was not that any progress was expected since both sides are not talking about resolving the conflict. These deliberations were mostly concerned with deferring Kerry’s deadline for a “framework agreement”, slated for 29 April.
The Americans want to maintain the charade of the talks for reasons other than achieving a lasting peace. Without a “peace process” the US would be denied an important political platform in the Middle East. Successive US administrations have presented themselves as the honest broker in the process.
Of course, it takes no genius to realize that the Americans have not been entirely honest in their dealings with both parties. In fact, the US is not a third party at all, but was and remains steadfastly in the Israeli camp. It used its political and financial leverage as a platform that allowed it to advance Israeli interests first, and their own interests second. Indyk is an example of this.
Indyk worked for the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC in 1982. AIPAC is a right-wing outlet that has invested unlimited funds and energy into preventing a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Its grip over the US Congress is so strong that some critics have suggested that Capitol Hill is in effect an occupied territory of Israel and its allies.
Indyk’s most important contribution to Israel was the founding of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 1985. This is another Israel lobby outlet that has damaged the credibility of US foreign policy in the Middle East by using “intellectuals” and “experts” as mediums.
Writing in Mondoweiss last year, Max Blumenthal recalled some interesting statements made by Indyk at J Street’s first annual convention in Washington DC in 2009. J Street is another Israeli lobby group that has distinguished itself as pro-peace, deceiving many into believing that AIPAC’s dominance in Washington is being challenged. However, its statements and the colourful past of its honoured guests and speakers indicate otherwise Indyk, as Israel lobbyist, was indeed among friends.
“I remembered stumbling into a huge auditorium to hear Indyk describe how he made ‘aliyah to Washington’ during the 1980s to ensure that US policy remained slanted in Israel’s favour, and go on to blame Yasser Arafat for the failure of Camp David,” Blumenthal recalled.
He quotes Indyk as saying: “I came to that conclusion 35 years ago when I was a student in Jerusalem and the Yom Kippur war broke out”.
“I worked as a volunteer there in those terrible days when Israel’s survival seemed to hang in the balance and I witnessed the misery of war and the critical role that the United States in the form of Henry Kissinger played through activist diplomacy in forging a peace out of that horrendous war.”
These were not passing comments made by Indyk, but a reflection of the man’s undying commitment to a “peace” as envisioned by Israel – and this is the core of the ongoing crisis.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu never ceases to talk about peace, as does his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Even the Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, leader of political party The Jewish Home and known for his bellicose rhetoric, is an ardent advocate of peace.
This is not a peace predicated on justice or envisaged by international and humanitarian laws. It is specifically-tailored peace that would allow Israel to maintain a colonial policy of land grabbing.
Unsurprisingly, this is the same kind of “peace” that the Americans envision. Kerry’s new peace agenda is not entirely a rehashing of old agendas. Yes, it is that too, but it almost completely embraces the once far-fetched ideas of Lieberman and rightwing groups, that of annexations – the Jordan Valley – and “land swaps” in exchange of main settlement blocs. When Lieberman floated these ideas a few years ago, he sounded like a deranged politician. Thanks to Kerry, it is now part of mainstream thinking.
So Indyk, who has dedicated a lifetime to securing an Israeli-style “peace”, is now branded as the one attempting to revive talks and exert pressure on both sides like any good “honest broker” would.
Indyk is not the only lobbyist-turned “peace” advocate. Dennis Ross, a well-known hawks for many years and a strong supporter of the disastrous Iraq war, served as a special Middle East coordinator under Bill Clinton, and was handpicked by President Barack Obama very early on to continue to the play the same role in the new administration. Aside from the diplomat’s strong links to neoconservatives, especially those involved in the now defunct pro-war group, the Project for the New American Century; he also served as a consultant to the same lobby club founded by Indyk, WINEP.
It was no coincidence of course that WINEP, as other pro-Israeli groups, has served as an advocacy platform for Israel and fashioned Israeli styled “peace makers”. Interestingly, both Ross and Indyk blamed the Palestinians for the failure of previous peace talks. Blumenthal astutely highlighted Indyk’s J Street tirade blaming late PLO leader Arafat with “that big shit-eating grin of his” for the failings of the so-called Clinton peace parameters, despite the fact that Arafat had indeed accepted them.
Indyk reminisced: “I remember Shimon Peres saying to me at the time when Arafat had to decide whether to accept the Clinton Parameters, he said, history is a horse that gallops past your window and the true act of a statesman is to jump from the window on to a galloping horse. But of course Arafat let the galloping horse pass by leaving the Israelis and Palestinians mired in misery.”
Now, it’s Indyk, the die-hard Israel lobbyist, being sent along with another galloping horse outside Abbas’ window. We all know well how this is going to end, and we can imagine Indyk giving another speech at an AIPAC or J Street conference deriding Abbas for failing to jump.

It's clear that Turkey was not involved in the chemical attack on Syria

The sources and conclusions used to support Seymour Hersh's argument just don't stack up. The perpetrators lie closer to home

Victims of Ghouta chemical attack in Syria
A weapon thought to have been used in the suspected gas attack in the Ghouta, Damascus, that killed hundreds in August 2013. Photograph: Erbin News/Demotix/Corbis
Last week the London Review of Books published an article by the respected Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, The Red Line and the Rat Line, in which he details the alleged involvement of the Turkish government with the Syrian opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra in last August's sarin attack in Damascus. Between 1,000 and 1,400 people are estimated to have died.
The US, Britain and other western governments have pinned the blame on the Syrian government; Russia has accused the rebels. Hersh describes this as part of a "false flag" operation designed to draw the US into a conflict with Syria.
In his 6,000-word article Hersh relies heavily on single, unnamed sources for each of his claims, and constructs a narrative in which the Turkish government was responsible for the largest chemical attack since the one carried out by Saddam Hussein on Halabja in 1988. But Hersh's story is full of holes, and it brings the reliability of his sources and conclusions into question.
Hersh makes no mention of the munitions used on 21 August, something that is key to understanding the attacks. In an interview for Democracy Now! he states that the weapons were both homemade and not in Syria's arsenal. Both these claims are wrong.
Two types of munitions were used on 21 August and are linked to the dispersal of sarin gas. Both were recorded in a report by the UN and the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and tested positive for signs of sarin. One was a Soviet-era M14 140mm artillery rocket, certainly not a "homemade" munition, and the second was a munition that was widely unknown.
Studying videos and photographs posted by opposition and pro-government sources has allowed researchers to piece together a great deal of information about these rockets. We know they are referred to as "Volcano" rockets and come in at least three sizes: 107mm, 122mm (as used on 21 August), and a much larger type based on a 220mm rocket motor. It is also clear that there are both explosive and chemical versions, as well as evidence of their use by the Syrian military from late 2012.
Videos and photographs from 21 August show at least eight examples of the chemical type of Volcano rockets. There are three videos from an alleged chemical attack in Adra, Damascus, on 5 August showing the same type of Volcano rockets; one video from Adra in June showing a chemical Volcano rocket; and videos and photographs from December 2012 to January 2013 showing the remains of chemical Volcano rockets. In all examples the rockets have been fired at the opposition and appear to share an identical design, down to the smallest details.
Photographs and footage going back to November 2012 filmed by opposition activists shows Volcano rockets being launched. Eight videos from Mezzeh airbase, near Daraya, from December 2012 show Volcano rocket launches; and from October 2013 the rockets and their launchers began to show up from videos posted by the Syrian government's National Defence Force. Eventually, even pro-Hezbollah sources started posting images of Volcano rockets in action. It is quite clear that no matter how "homemade" Hersh believes the rockets to be, they have been used by the Syrian military for more than a year.
When questioned about this in a recent interview with the Turkish website Diken Hersh dismissed the Volcano rockets, seemingly because he believes a range of "a mile" somehow means they should be discounted as important to his narrative. Hersh refers to the work of Ted Postol and Richard Lloyd who believe the range of the rockets is about 2km. But this range issue isn't the problem Hersh appears to think.
Video footage from both sides of the conflict has allowed researchers to accurately find the positions of government controlled areas on 21 August. The Russian-language news site ANNA News posted two dozen videos showing "Operation al-Qaboun", a Syrian government military operation running from June to August 2013. Embedded with Syrian forces, they were able to film the progress of the operation to clear positions between Jobar and Qaboun, a strip of land about 2km away from the 21 August impact sites.
Videos from opposition groups show the other side of the fighting, including attacks on checkpoints and government movements. Based on this information it appears that the front lines were about 2km away from the furthest impact sites of rockets used on 21 August. Only two rockets landed at the 2km maximum range described by Lloyd and Postol, with the reported impact sites of the remaining rockets being between 1.5km-1.8km away. It has been possible to confirm the precise impact locations of some of the rockets by a combination of GPS information, satellite map imagery, photographs and videos, and around a dozen impact sites were reported by local groups in eastern Ghouta. Hersh's belief that the 2km rocket range is enough to dismiss them from his narrative is clearly misguided.
Despite Hersh's claims we can clearly see that the rockets were used by the Syrian government, and within range of government controlled territory.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Palestine as an exclusively Jewish issue in the US

Are Palestinians only relevant by what they mean to Israel, instead of how they are related to the bigger picture?

Last updated: 21 Apr 2014 13:29
Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
Email Article
 
Print Article
 
Share article
 
Send Feedback
Among the staunchest defenders of Palestine are a minority of anti-Zionist ultra orthodox religious Jews who see Israel as anathema to Jewish teachings, writes Bishara [AFP/Getty]
A Jewish-Jewish debate has heated up in recent years in the United States with new critical voices of Israel taking centre stage. Such healthy debate is not unique in American politics. Immigrant communities like Cubans, Irish and Armenians do the same.
But confining the US debate on Palestine and the Arab world to a mere intra-Zionist debate is counterproductive. It's narrowly defining and largely dictating the larger debate over US policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It renders the Palestinians relevant only by what they mean to Israel, not for who they are or how they are related to the larger Arab or Muslim worlds.
They are judged to be moderate or extremist, enlightened or primitive, peace loving or evildoers according to their tolerance of Israel's occupation or rejection of a "Jewish state" on "their" lands.
This approach has culminated in utter US failure to conclude a successful peace process to end the conflict. A failure that could further diminish US leverage to the detriment of its policy towards the region. 
But this is neither inevitable nor irreversible.
Jews by association 
American Jewish association with Israel has intensified over the last few decades. Coolness towards the early labour/socialist Israel gave way to new excitement after Israel's 1967 victory against the Arabs and its occupation of all of Palestine.
Eventually, the emergence of the "special relationship" Americanised Israel and opened the floodgates of Jewish support to the new regional ally. 
Unlike Jewish communities from other countries who emigrated to Israel in droves, American Jews have overwhelmingly stayed in America. Instead of migrating, they provided indispensable support, financial, political and even strategic.
To their credit - the estimated 4 million Jews, who emigrated to North America from Europe between 1860 and 1960, and their descendants have emerged as powerful and influential actors throughout the American establishment, and hence their position carried huge weight over their main issue of interest, Israel/Palestine.
This is especially the case because Palestine does not count on its own as a strategic imperative for the US and Palestinian/Arab Americans have failed to mount a counter political charm offensive.
Moreover, the Arab world has been divided and weak and in the absence of regional pressure on Washington to act responsibly and fairly, leaving Washington ever more perceptive to domestic Jewish influence.
The only two exceptions to this rule came first in 1991 when the George Bush administration insisted that Israel freeze all settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to convene the international conference for peace. And in 2010, when General David Petraeus reportedly warned that the Palestinian issue was "fomenting anti-American sentiment due to the perception of US favouritism towards Israel". 
But even that concern was soon pushed aside when Washington appeared to be engaging in the peace process once again.
American Zionism has remained largely antiquated despite Israel's own historians' demystification of the traditional Zionist narrative by chronicling early Zionists' war crimes and revealing their covert plans to take over Palestine. The American Zionists continued to hold onto myths and mythologies about the 'miracle' of Israel, a city on a hill.
Unfortunately, American Zionism has remained largely antiquated despite Israel's own historians' demystification of the traditional Zionist narrative by chronicling early Zionists' war crimes and revealing their covert plans to take over Palestine. The American Zionists continue to hold onto myths and mythologies about the "miracle" of Israel, a city on a hill. 
Jewish polarisation
The US turn to the left and Israel's further turn to the right after the 2008 elections, have polarised the organised American Jewish elites and put pressure on moderate Jewish voices to be openly critical of Israel and distance themselves from the extremist policies of the Netanyahu government.
The new split has reinvigorated the political debate between these Jewish moderates who demand that Israel end its occupation and its illegal settlement construction in order to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the radicals, who demand that the Palestinians embrace Israel as a "Jewish state" and relinquish their rights over Jerusalem and Palestinian right of return, even before a final negotiated settlement is reached.
While on the face of it, the moderates' position is a big step forward on the road of recognising Palestinians' rights in Palestine, it stems primarily from having Israel’s best interest in mind. Not Palestine's.
They see a compromise in the occupied West Bank as a necessary step to maintain the "democratic" character of the Jewish state and ensure continued US support for an Israel ever more isolated in the region and in the world.
But they don't recognise the importance of admitting Israel’s historic injustices or compensating the Palestinians for more than six decades of dispossession and more than four decades of occupation.
In other words, while the moderates attempt at saving Israel from itself and unburdening Judaism from the ills of occupation and apartheid is commendable, it falls short on addressing the Palestinians as victims of Israel's aggression.
Jews by disassociation
Make no mistake, there are also many non-Zionists as well as robust post-Zionist and anti-Zionist activists among American Jews.
If Palestine's worst opponents in the US are Jewish, so are Palestine's most vocal and dedicated supporters.
This is especially admirable because supporting Israel is praised, celebrated and even rewarded (including tax breaks) in the US, while supporting the cause of Palestine can be terribly taxing for a Jewish American.
Among the staunchest Palestine defenders are a minority of anti-Zionist ultra orthodox religious Jews who see Israel as anathema to Jewish teachings.
But it's the secularist Jews who don't necessarily identify themselves as Jewish per se, that have adopted the most uncompromising and moral position on Palestinian rights. 
Agree with them or not, these courageous "universalists" identify with the Palestinians as victims of dispossession and oppression, unconditionally. They see the cause of Palestine as an extension of the struggle for freedom from colonialism and war.
Their compass is truly universal and their prism is ethical not ethnic.
But they remain a minority on the margins of the US establishment and outside the influential Jewish organisations.
Palestine, the test for the US
President Barack Obama might lean towards the moderate Zionist J Street lobby, but the US government, including Congress, continues, rather expediently, to follow in the footsteps of the extremist pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.
And so the US foreign policy establishment continues to swing between moderate and radical Zionism instead of fairly mediating between Palestinians and Israelis.
The result is an utter failure of two decades of peace process and a diminished US credibility in the Middle East.
Soon after failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000, I remember reading that Palestinians, like other Arabs before them, felt that the US delegation was divided between Labourites and Likudniks, in reference to Israel's own centrist and rightist political parties.
Indeed, one keen observer went as far as noting that while the US delegations mediating the first Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt were all Christians with the exception of then US Ambassador to Israel, the later Camp David Summit with the Palestinians in 2000 featured a US delegation that was compromised of only Jewish friends of Israel with the exception of President Bill Clinton.
I personally don't know and don't look for who's a Jew and who isn't. Nor do I judge people by their religion. But the dominant presence of American Jewish staunch supporters of Israel in the US establishment is certainly a cause of concern. Does the name Martin Indyk ring a bell? Like his predecessor Dennis Ross, this close ally of Israel is spearheading the US day-to-day negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
The US government can't pretend to be a fair broker when, according to one of its former Zionist delegates, it acts as "Israel's lawyer". That's not a question of ethnicity or religion, but one of sound political judgement.

Overcoming the Arab-Persian divide: Who owns the Gulf?

Arab and Persian nationalisms try to exclude the Indian and African heritage from the identities they have promoted.

Last updated: 21 Apr 2014 11:12
Hamid Dabashi

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
"To the silly choice of Arabian or Persian Gulf I always respond only half-jokingly that we should call it by its real name, which is the American Gulf," writes Dabashi [EPA]
As an Ahvazi I am the product of the multicultural fact of that magnificent city, and in fact our province and by extension the entire northern and southern shores of the Gulf are at the crosscurrents of no less than four cultural forces: Iranian from north, Arab from the west, Indian from the east and African from the south. False and falsifying Arab-Persian divide first and foremost has categorically ignored, and dismissed the fact that we have a profound and enduring Indian and African presence in our region.
Construction of the complementary modes of Arab and Persian bourgeois xenophobia has historically banked on manufacturing each other as mere obstacles to their sublime achievement of white-identified, Eurocentric modernity. As such, what they both simultaneously conceal is their mutual fear of the African and the Indian, both of which are conspicuously absent from their identically racist identity politics.
The whole white-washed bourgeois nationalism of both the Arab and Persian vintage is so deeply afraid of being "coloured" by the factual evidence of history that, all its antagonisms notwithstanding, comes together in mutually repressing the African and Indian component of the region.
The Zanj Rebellion of 869-883 AD is among the earliest indications we have of a massive slave revolt in and around Basra at the tip of the Gulf. The origin of my own last name (meaning "bilingual") is just one small indication of a profound Indian influence in southern Iran, and all the way from the Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
How horridly boring would it be if any ethnic nationalism were to triumph.
Defending the term "the Arab Gulf", a dear Egyptian friend once told me that a man he knew had done a research and concluded that "all people living on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf spoke Arabic." To the degree that this might in fact be true, it is balanced by the fact that as many on the southern shore also speak Persian - two imperial languages that for millennia were the lingua franca of successive empires.
To the silly choice of Arabian or Persian Gulf I always respond only half-jokingly that we should call it by its real name, which is the American Gulf. The navigational and maritime imperial realities of the region are far more accurate reflections of who and what we are in that region. Shat al-Arab, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean - that is how history has opted to call the varied waters of the region.
During the shah's time we were told to call Shat al-Arab, Arvand Rud. We could not, for us it was Shat al-Arab, pouring into the Persian Gulf, pouring into the Arabian Sea, pouring into the Indian Ocean - a fair and evenly divided maritime distribution of water among people, if we were to disregard the fact that Africans are left out of the equation.
Argument against separatist movements should not be abandoned to a bogus jingoism of a Tehran-centred racism but to the factual evidence that there are no pure anything. In our robust veins runs the blood of God Almighty only knows how many sailors from what distant shores. As the late Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri once put it in a poem:
I am from Kashan
My lineage may reach a plant in India,
A relic from the soil of Sialk,
Or perhaps a prostitute in Bukhara.
A sense of transnational solidarity
A mere criticism of the predominance of this pervasive brand of bourgeois nationalism is not sufficient. What is necessary is the retrieval and cultivation of other collective memories that factually and persuasively override it.
Consider the factual phenomenon that my generation of Iranians grew up on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Ahmad Shamlou, Faiz Ahmadi Faiz, Aime Cesaire, Nazem Hekmat, Pablo Neruda, Vladimir Mayakovski, almost entirely oblivious to their Arab, Iranian, Pakistani, Turkish, African, Latin American, or Russian origins. These poets formed a liberating space out of their emotive universe, and in reading their work we did not think we had crossed any borders.
Quite to the contrary: We were framed and freed in their poetry into a liberating recognition of who and what we were. Against the persistent colonial and imperial machination to instigate separatist movements to divide so as to rule us better, these poets defied the postcolonial fiction of nation-states and brought us closer to each other in the poetics of our resistance to tyranny and injustice.
This sense of transnational solidarity was by no means limited to the realm of poetry and extended well into politics. Consider the monumental figures of Nehru, Mosaddeq, Nasser, and Lumumba. They were champions of anti-imperial struggles of people from Asia and Africa long before the ferocious fiction of the Arab-Persian divide or even worse that of the Sunni-Shia conflict had divided to rule them better.
As someone blessed by countless Arab friends, colleagues, comrades, students, and acquaintances, I proudly carry my Arabic first name (the signature sign of my identity as a Muslim), my Indian last name, and my Iranian parentage, speaking my Persian with a joyous southern accent, my Arabic with a splendid Persian intonation, and my English with a triumphant transatlantic twist, walking tall and feeling blessed that from Asia to Africa to Latin America, and deep into Europe and North America, I am at home in countries and cultures graced by more than one trace on their countenance.
How horridly boring would it be if any ethnic nationalism were to triumph, if all the Kurds were to live together, all the Arabs together, all the Persians together, soon to discover the terrifying vacuity of their delusional fantasies that they actually share anything beyond that fictive hallucination of unadulterated lineage. We are all mongrels, and how beautiful is that?
There is scarce anything more terrorising than the murder of a poet. Hashem Shaabani has joined Said Soltanpour and a whole pantheon of martyr poets - going all the way back to Mirzadeh Eshghi and Farrokhi Yazdi in both the Islamic Republic and the Pahlavi regimes - dreaming a better world for their people. It is the historic task of those people precisely to interpret those dreams in liberating and increasingly universal terms. Arab and Persian bourgeois nationalism are the diametrical opposites of such emancipatory terms.
This is the second part of Hamid Dabashi's article. You can find the first part here.

Syria: bombs and ballots

The barrel bomb is a primitive, almost medieval, weapon. Pack any large metal container, an oil drum or even an old water heating tank, with high explosive, shrapnel, stones – the recipe varies – and drop it from a helicopter on to a residential street, where its impact is multiplied by the walls and roofs its blast brings crashing down.
It has become the instrument of choice for Syrian forces trying to retake rebel areas, particularly the eastern half of Aleppo. The bombs kill a lot of people, including some rebel fighters but also many civilians, and cause large numbers to flee, into the countryside, across international borders, or into government territory. One estimate suggests that between 5,000 and 6,000 barrel bombs have been dropped during the war, killing at least 20,000 people. There is no defence, except to bring down the helicopters with ground-to-air missiles, which the Syrian rebels do not have, a fact they bitterly resent and blame on their lukewarm western and Arab supporters.
Barrel bombs are not designed to be discriminate. It would be quite impossible to use them in such a way as to target only armed fighters. The main effect is to clear urban areas of people clinging to their homes and lives, preparatory to retaking territory and driving civilians either into the limbo of refugee camps over the borders or into places in Syria where they can be easily controlled. Perfect for a government that has been gradually gaining the upper hand in its battle with insurgents, but the price paid is, even by the standards of the Syrian conflict, quite horrifying. And it could get worse. Aid agencies in Turkey fear that if government forces in Aleppo reach the point where they can cut the main road from that city to the Turkish border, up to a million Aleppo people could pour into Turkey, utterly overwhelming the already stretched and overcrowded facilities for refugees there.
Bombs and shells are not the only ways in which the Damascus government is ratcheting up the pressure on the rebels and on the civilians who live, most of them not by any conscious choice, in rebel areas. During much of the war, food supplies and services such as water, some electricity, medical clinics and the occasional school somehow limped along. This is no longer the case in places such as Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee area in Damascus, which used to be home to 250,000 Palestinians. There are 18,000 left, a mixture of Palestinians and Syrians, and, according to a report in the Observer on Sunday, they are on the point of starvation, with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency saying it cannot get its food parcels through. The situation may be equally dire in central Homs.
Syria, the report suggests, has become a country where, if you want to eat, you may soon have no choice but to rally to the government side. With developments such as these, President Bashar al-Assad seems increasingly confident that he is on the way to winning the war. There are schemes to reconcile and rehabilitate people who are no longer always described as terrorists. Preparations have even begun for a presidential election in the summer. It can hardly fail to be a travesty, partly because the manipulation of elections is an old art in Ba'athist Syria and partly because millions of displaced people will be unable to register to vote, but it would be a demonstration of the government's capacity to create a facade of normality.
The countries helping the rebels need to reconsider their options. They could shift the military balance by giving the rebels more weapons or by using western air power. They could go on to try to revive the so far barren diplomatic process. Or they can accept that the Syrian government is going to achieve some kind of victory, even if that victory is likely to be superficial, with much of the population alienated and rebel groups determined to bide their time and fight again on another day. The default choice, far from palatable, is to continue to give the rebels enough aid to stave off defeat but not enough to prevail.