x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New envoy on Syria faces long odds

The UN's replacement for Kofi Annan will have trouble accomplishing anything, an Arabic paper's editor says. Other topics today: Israeli settlers and Sinai perpetrators.

Newly nominated UN envoy to Syria should be careful not to repeat mistakes of the past

Word from the United Nations is that Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and assistant to the Arab League's secretary general, has been nominated for the post of joint UN-Arab envoy to Syria, after Kofi Annan tendered his resignation "in disgust and frustration". So wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, in his front-page column this weekend.

The official commissioning is expected on Thursday, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appears to be excited to see Mr Brahimi, 78, ready to resume the international effort to find a way out of the 17-month crisis in Syria.

"I, for one, hope that Mr Brahimi will turn down this momentous mission," the editor said. "I hope that he will gracefully decline … and spare himself a descent into a carefully laid trap which will get him involved in the process of tearing Syria into shreds - a prelude to ripping the whole region apart."

Mr Brahimi must bear in mind that his predecessor, Kofi Annan, did not really fail his mission, the editor argued.

"The United States, along with some western and Arab nations, deliberately made him fail when they realised that he was on to something - that he favoured dialogue that preserves Syria's territorial unity, puts an end to the bloodletting and prevents a sectarian civil war and the intervention of superpowers."

Mr Annan wanted to get all the regional players to do their part in a political solution to the Syrian crisis, the editor went on. That's why, during the various stages of his mission, he travelled to Tehran, Baghdad, Istanbul, Riyadh and Moscow.

"But the US and its allies in the region do not want a political solution, and prefer to see Syria destroyed," the editor said.

Mr Brahimi should know better, for he had previously been named UN envoy to Iraq, and the results of that mission have been disastrous. On Mr Brahimi's watch Paul Bremer, then the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, sealed Baghdad's fate: chronic political dysfunction.

Since 2004, Iraq's political structure has been a sect-based quota system, as Washington wanted. Iraq's institutions, including the army, were dissolved under the pretext of uprooting the Baathists. "Whether he was acting in good faith or not, Mr Brahimi is one of the parties responsible for those mistakes."

To his credit, though, Mr Brahimi was brave enough to acknowledge, during a Dubai conference on democracy some years ago, that the quota system had been a mistake.

"So with all due respect to Mr Brahimi's experience as a diplomat … it is hard to see, given the complication of the Syrian situation, any success for his mission in the offing," the editor concluded.

How Israeli settlers are killing two-state hopes

Israeli settlements are uncontrollably nibbling away at Palestinian land, leaving its rightful inhabitants without shelter and pulverising the last dredges of hope that might still be pinned on the two-state solution, wrote Majed Al Sheikh, a Palestinian writer, in the opinion pages of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday.

These settlements, whether officially sanctioned by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or not, are being built on land that is supposed to become part of the prospective Palestinian state.

Most recently the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, informed his country's supreme court that the army was getting ready to rase eight villages to the south of the Hebron Mountains, arguing that the area is of vital importance for military training.

Mr Barak told the court his ministry feared that Palestinians living there would gather information about the Israeli army's training regimen and use that information to conduct suicide attacks.

The Israeli supreme court has, at least since 1967, been of the opinion that land that has been controlled after the war, in Jerusalem and the West Bank, did not qualify as "occupied territories", because it was not under any country's sovereignty.

Already, Palestinian farmers are being denied access to their land that is, suddenly, in "a fire zone", the writer said.

What two-state solution can anyone talk about then?

Lack of clarity prevails over attack in Sinai

Speculation is in no short supply over who is responsible for last week's armed attack in Sinai, which left 16 Egyptian border guards dead and perturbed the freshly appointed government of President Mohammed Morsi, said columnist Essam Noaman in yesterday's edition of the UAE-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

Without much solid proof, many fingers are pointing at "Islamist Jihadists" who might have crossed the porous border from Gaza into the Sinai desert.

Israel has a different opinion, the columnist said. According to Israeli security, the perpetrators are likely to be Bedouins from Sinai itself - elements who are thought to have developed close ties with Salafist networks.

This account goes against previous speculation by the Israeli newspaper Maariv which claimed Hamas might be implicated in the attack.

Some Hamas officials and members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were quick to accuse the Israeli Mossad.

And that is not all. Those at the funeral of the dead soldiers, most of whom belong to the dissolved National Democratic Party, chanted abusive slogans against President Morsi, holding the Muslim Brotherhood responsible, the columnist noted.

Nothing is clear so far - except all the various accusations.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi