Ed: 36: July/2011
This September, the Palestinian Authority (PA) intends to go to the United Nations to seek support for a unilateral declaration of a sovereign Palestinian state - a move that will intensify rather than end the conflict, setting the entire peace process back by years if not decades.
Having shunned repeated Israeli attempts to negotiate a two-state solution without preconditions over the past two and a half years - including during Israel's historic settlement freeze in 2009-10 - the Palestinians' goal in approaching the UN is, as noted historian Benny Morris put it, "to establish a Palestinian Arab state encompassing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, but without recognising Israel or making peace with it."
British journalist and author Malise Ruthven has written an article for the New York Review of Books, later re-published in the Australian Financial Review (June 17), examining the history of Syria in the wake of the recent unrest, and especially the domination of the country by the minority Alawite sect since around 1963. In that article, he featured a very revealing and important quote from the 1930s.
It occurs in a 1936 letter sent by six Syrian Alawite leaders to Leon Blum, the Prime Minister of France. At the time, France was overseeing Syria under a League of Nations mandate. The Alawite leaders were concerned that France was encouraging negotiations leading to a unified independent Syria dominated by the Sunni majority, which would leave the Alawites a powerless and persecuted minority.
With Malaysian Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim still detained by a farcical trial and Prime Minister Najib Razak's sclerotic UMNO-led coalition firmly in control, the entrenched political stalemate could yet be upset from a surprising direction. Long viewed as a promoter of fundamentalist Islam in politics, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is undergoing something of a renovation that could turn the fortunes of the struggling opposition coalition.
The world has gotten accustomed since mid-March to reports of wide unrest sweeping Syria. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia but very much like in Libya, the Syrian regime has chosen to confront the "Arab Spring" with armed repression, including tanks, helicopter gunships and missile boats - thus provoking, like in the Tunisian case, a steady flow of refugees fleeing the battleground to a safe haven in Turkey, and who are revealing day after day the atrocities committed by the Alawite regime against its own people.
In the absence of free speech and a free press (among other political mod-cons) in Syria, Hafez al-Assad and then his son, Bashar, have cultivated the convenient habit of transacting business in the shadows, advancing and protecting - brutally, when necessary - the interests of the family and their fellow Alawites.
"The sick man of Europe," is what one Russian Tsar called the declining Ottoman Empire, alluding to its rapidly shrinking domains and ballooning debts.
Today, less than a century after the Ottoman Caliphate was succeeded by a post-imperial, secularist, and introverted republic, Turkey is reasserting itself as an economic, political, and diplomatic force to reckon with. These efforts are embodied in the character, record, and visions of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
When US President Barack Obama first made his controversial reference to the 1967 lines as the basis for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on May 19, 2011, he introduced one main caveat that stuck out: the idea that there would be "mutually agreed swaps" of land between the two sides. He added that both sides were entitled to "secure and recognised borders." But the inclusion of land swaps also raised many questions.
An article in last month's AIR entitled "Are Australian Tax Dollars indirectly funding BDS?" looked at revelations from the October 2010 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee - Budget Supplementary Estimates Committee hearings which suggested that it was possible that Australian tax dollars were funding elements of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel through the federal government's international aid agency, AusAID.
In bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, I sometimes encounter a certain amount of scepticism. I divide these sceptics into two groups.
The smaller group is ideologically opposed to prosecuting Nazis.
The larger group wonders whether, so many years after the war, the effort to hold to account those who committed the crimes is worth it.
Ten years ago, I wasn't in Iran. While there have been many other times when I haven't been in that country (actually, I have never been there), the 2001 non-visit was significant then and relevant a decade later.
The murderous terrorist outrages of September 11 that year are etched into the public memory, but events the preceding fortnight also have long-term significance.