x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Russia aspires to strong Middle East role

Years ago the Russian president Vladimir Putin came up with the idea of hosting an international conference that would bring together all parties to the conflict in the Middle East with a view to finding solutions to the region's issues, noted Mazen Hammad in the Qatari daily newspaper Al Watan.

Four and a half years ago, the Russian president Vladimir Putin came up with the idea of hosting an international conference that would bring together all parties to the conflict in the Middle East with a view to finding solutions to the region's issues and, by the same token, extending Moscow's diplomatic reach in the area, noted Mazen Hammad in the comment pages of the Qatari daily newspaper Al Watan.

Mr Putin's bid never materialised, which only reflects Russia's difficulties in regaining the international influence it once had under the Soviet Union. The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced in June that the conference will be held late this year, but 2009 is almost over and there is no news of the conference as yet. In fact, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said this week during a visit to Cairo that Russia is still determined to organise the conference, but the Palestinians and the Israelis are not yet ready to sit around the same table.

Russia's strong desire to organise this international conference connotes its longing for the Soviet hegemony of yore and its resolve to recover some of the ground it has lost to the United States, especially on the Middle Eastern diplomatic sphere since the break-up of the USSR.

The Sudanese government's rejection of the proposals put forward by the Darfur opposition must not lead to the end of the negotiations process, because that is exactly what bilateral talks are about: demands and concessions, the Sudanese daily newspaper Al Ayaam stated in its leader. The Darfur talks that were held on Saturday came to a standstill after the demands that the Darfur armed opposition claimed as as "minimum" and "essential" were considered "unrealistic" and "detrimental to the peace process" by the central government's delegation. The Darfur opposition wants Darfur to be acknowledged as a single unified province delimited as per the 1956 borders and demands to be involved at all levels of government, including the management of the central government in Khartoum during the interim period.

"None of these demands are new. This is what the Darfur armed movements have long been asking for; it doesn't mean that they constitute the end stage of the talks, but rather the starting point." Saturday's deadlock does not call for pessimism so long as both parties prove to be more flexible and show good faith in trying to find a solid middle ground.

One year ago today, Israel launched its war on Gaza, which over 22 days left 1,400 Palestinians dead and more than 3,000 houses destroyed, the Emirati daily Al Bayan noted in its editorial. "The aftermath of the war is still tangible today. And it will remain so as long as the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip is maintained. All the condemnations voiced by human rights bodies and numerous civil and political international agencies changed nothing about Israel's aggression against the Palestinian people." Even the Goldstone report, which cited war crimes committed by the Israeli army, was casually shelved, despite the wide approval it had received in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

"The ghost of the US veto made sure the report would not be able to find its way to the Security Council, let alone to the International Criminal Court." Not only is Israel ignoring international calls to lifting the blockade on Gaza - the last of which had been a call by the former US president Jimmy Carter - it is also threatening to launch a new offensive into various Palestinian territories. The impotence of the so-called international community makes it an accessory to Israel's crimes against the Palestinians.

"'Forty per cent of the Arab world population live below the poverty line' was the headline that recurred in virtually every international media outlet after the Fifth Arab human development report was released [last summer]," wrote Nehla al Shahal in a comment piece carried by the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

All indices that gauge human development in the Arab world have depreciated in comparison with the first report that was issued seven years earlier. The latest report in a series put together by the United Nations Development Programme, attributed this "consistent decline", as it calls it, to the weakness of the political, social, economic and environmental forces in the region, the absence of community-focussed development projects and exposure to foreign interference.

"What is most shocking is the way the report has been received by the concerned parties: some glossed over it, others did not care at all, while still others are still doubting its very authenticity." According to the report, the Arab region also suffers from overpopulation in urban areas, a high rate of unemployment among the younger generation, water shortages and mismanagement, overbearing government policies and unreliable judicial systems.

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae