Solutions to Violent Conflict

Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

De-Ba`thification and the Rise of ISIS

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Aysegul Keskin Zeren

As the war against ISIS unfolds, acknowledging the conditions and events that paved the way for ISIS is crucial for rethinking strategy. As a result of a decade of instability in Iraq and more than three years of civil war in Syria, ISIS had fertile grounds and a strong support base to gain power in a wide stretch of territory in the regions. The ability of ISIS to gain significant popular support in Iraq particularly reveals how the policy of de-Ba`thification aided the rise of this extremist group.


The official de-Ba`thification process was initiated by the first two orders of the Coalition Provisional Authority in April 2003. The targets of these orders were high-level Ba`th party officials, Ba`thist leadership in public institutions, and entities that symbolized the Saddam Hussein era such as the Iraqi Army. Read the rest of this entry »

The Role of Diplomacy in Countering ISIS

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Massive influx of Syrian Kurdish refugees into Turkey, September 22, 2014. Photo: EC/ECHO (Flickr)

David Cortright

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a clear and present danger to international security that must be stopped. The question is how. President Obama said there are no military solutions to this crisis, but he has sent American soldiers back to Iraq and launched air strikes there and in Syria. Recently, he ordered a doubling of U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 3,100. What’s missing so far from the U.S. response is a coherent plan for using diplomacy and political measures to weaken ISIS and halt the spread of violence in the region. Read the rest of this entry »

The ISIS Stalemate: It’s the Long Game

In Counterterrorism, Middle East, Religion and Conflict on November 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Ebrahim Moosa

With another U.S. aid worker beheaded by ISIS and unreported civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes in ISIS controlled territories in Iraq and Syria, the conflict is taking on the features of a military stalemate.

As long as ISIS is America’s problem, there are no good medium and long-term solutions to the “caliphate” of Abubakr al-Baghdadi. Even assassinating Baghdadi would not solve the problem of the menace of ISIS, just as the execution of Osama bin Laden did not put an end to al-Qaeda. In fact, ISIS is a version of al-Qaeda on steroids.


More revealing about the civil war in Syria and Iraq is the account of Theo Padnos, the American journalist who was released by the Nusra Front after two years of captivity. The real battle in Syria, according to Padnos, is between the Nusra Front and ISIS. The two groups detest each other yet they share a common enemy in the Assad regime. Read the rest of this entry »

Challenging the Israeli Narrative from Within

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on September 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

Atalia Omer

During the intense days of  “Operation Protective Edge,” in an atmosphere of intimidation and growing self-protectionist groupthink within Israel, thousands of Israelis nonetheless flooded the main squares of cities protesting the occupation, the massacres in Gaza, and the racism and chauvinism that surfaced in explosive and shocking ways.

It is important to identify who these voices of dissent are, what they argue, and how they fit within the broader landscape of Palestine solidarity activism and regional peacebuilding efforts. Doing so means avoiding fatalistic attitudes and navigating the polarizing opinions and interests related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Traditionally, the mainstream peace movement in Israel was called the “loyal” left—with “loyal” being shorthand for a commitment to peace that does not challenge the political experiment with Jewish democracy. This loyal opposition has struggled to recover from the failure of the Oslo Accords of 1993, evident in the eruption of the Second Intifada or Palestinian uprising in 2000. One of the blinders of the movement has been its willingness to accept the Green Line of 1967 as not only a spatial boundary but also a normative one. Read the rest of this entry »

The Continuing Cycle of Violence in Gaza

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on September 29, 2014 at 9:44 am
UNRWA - Gaza

UN Photo: Shareef Sarhan, July 2014

Asher Kaufman

Since the mid-1990s, Israel has attempted to separate the fate of Gaza from that of the West Bank. The 2005 “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip was the most dramatic step of this policy. There were at least two reasons for the decision to withdraw from Gaza. First, Israel wanted to reduce the “demographic threat” to the Jewish State at a minimum territorial cost. Second, by withdrawing from Gaza, Israel hoped to strengthen its control over the West Bank.

Hamas’s victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections and its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in July 2007 turned this region into the main frontline for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Buttressed by its commitment to the armed struggle against Israel, Hamas and other Islamist organizations aggressively sought to demonstrate that Gaza is only one piece of the Palestine puzzle and that they would not allow Israel to achieve its strategic goals. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pope’s Appeal to Conscience

In Catholic, Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on September 29, 2014 at 9:43 am

Patrick Gaffney, C.S.C.

In terms of media reporting, public debate, and partisan polemics, the recent conflict in Gaza can be characterized like its predecessors as a military confrontation and diplomatic poker game between Israel and Hamas. But on a deeper level this latest tragic chapter, like the others, belongs to a larger picture that is difficult to shrink down and fit into the vocabulary of the nightly news roundup.


In order to understand the conflict in Gaza, one must understand this larger picture. Those who speak for this other dimension, this larger picture, do not compete in the same arena as politicians, diplomats and soldiers for whom war is a matter of winning or losing. Instead, these other voices engage the same pressing issues, but in a way that expands the boundaries of discourse from the immediate strategies at hand to a concern for and recognition of their fundamental human consequences.

This other dimension goes by different names. For the sake of brevity here I will call it conscience. By this, I am pointing to the reflective awareness of a law higher than national sovereignty, a source of moral discrimination that is not justified by ethnic or religious belonging, by party loyalty, by self-interest, by dominant power, or by collective desire. Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Two-State Solution Dead?

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on January 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Atalia Omer

Some commentators suggest that the new series of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry, represents a last effort to save the so-called two-state solution from its demise. Kerry remains focused on attaining a framework for an interim accord by April of this year. He aspires to follow this with further substantive talks and an eventual peace agreement that will establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Kerry chapter in the long and tumultuous history of the “peace process” is, however, received with skepticism born out of disillusionment with the failed and deeply flawed Oslo Accords. In the 20 years that have passed since the handshake between Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the Rose Garden of the White House, the number of illegal settlers in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem increased from approximately 193,000 to 600,000. This increase is indicative of the enduring legacy of the late Ariel Sharon, whose policy of creating “facts on the ground” gave him one of his many controversial accolades as the conceptual engineer of the settlement movement in the territories Israel occupied in 1967. Read the rest of this entry »

The March of Folly

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on January 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm
Photo: Kara Newhouse (Flickr)

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Al-Ma’asara. Photo: Kara Newhouse (Flickr)

Asher Kaufman

If the late historian Barbara Tuchman could write a new edition of The March of Folly, would she consider the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a proper candidate for an addition to her classic book?

Tuchman wrote about “one of the most compelling paradoxes of history: the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.”

“To qualify as a folly,” she explained, “the policy adopted must meet three criteria: it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight. . . . Secondly, a feasible alternative course of action must have been available. . . . a third criterion must be that the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is Pessimism about Resolving the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Justified?

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on January 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Khalil Shikaki

A new and hopefully more promising phase of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations started in January 2014. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenth visit to Israel-Palestine that month aimed at outlining American bridging proposals for resolving the conflict. The hope is that the parties will finalize, with U.S. help, a framework for a peace agreement by the end of April 2014 when the current round of peace talks, which started in July 2013, ends.

Palestinian and Israeli publics, however, are not impressed. They continue to show justifiable skepticism regarding the chances for success. Secretary Kerry should make it his business to change this prevailing perception.


Joint Palestinian-Israeli polls show little optimism regarding Palestinian-Israeli peace. More than two-thirds of both publics do not expect the current round of peace negotiations to lead to a peace agreement. Worse, similar or larger majorities do not believe that a Palestinian state will be established in the next five years. In fact, most Palestinians and Israelis, while supportive of the two-state solution, believe that such a solution is no longer practical. Read the rest of this entry »

Preventing War with Iran: Have Prospects Improved?

In Iran, Middle East, Nuclear disarmament on September 18, 2013 at 11:38 am

Ellen Laipson

The election of President Hassan Rouhani has augured in a wave of hopefulness that conflict between Iran and the U.S. could be avoided. But the escalating crisis in Syria has cast a shadow over prospects for improvement. The August 21 use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war generated talk of the use of force by the U.S. that some saw as a practice run for an Iran operation or as a move to deter and warn Iran.

By September 10, the circle had turned again, with emerging prospects of a new international initiative to persuade Syria to give up its chemical stocks and begin negotiations to end the war. Such a development would have great potential benefit for U.S.-Iran relations. Rouhani’s election and his naming of the respected diplomat Mohammad Jarad Zerif as Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator have created hope that Iran may be ready to work for a negotiated settlement on its nuclear activities. Read the rest of this entry »