Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1410, (20 - 26 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Action, not speeches

The upcoming high-level UN General Assembly meeting, due to open 25 September, should not be limited to the speeches world leaders deliver from the famous podium of the international organisation. The presence of so many world leaders in New York should be an opportunity to work on tangible steps to deal with scores of complicated issues, many of which are related to the Middle East region.

Here, we are not talking about political disputes or border issues, but rather human disasters which have resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents over the past few years only. Whether in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan, news on deaths became a daily routine, with the world watching passively, perhaps issuing statements expressing regret or suggesting solutions that are not followed up with concrete steps to stop the bloodshed.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has been keen, since he took office, to attend the annual General Assembly meetings, unlike his predecessors who hardly made that long trip once or twice during their decades in office. This reflects Egypt’s belief that holding serious discussions and consultations over the extremely dangerous conflicts the region is witnessing is the only way to find solutions and put an end to human suffering.

While the so-called “Arab Spring”, which several Arab countries have experienced, brought with it a sense of optimism that the region might be heading towards a new phase in its history, the developments that followed, namely the disintegration of several key states such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, resulted in an unprecedented growth of the threat of terrorism. Indeed, this region has been suffering the violence of extremist terrorist groups for decades. However, the breakup of several Arab countries provided safe havens for terrorist groups on an entirely new scale.

The world leaders who will meet in New York next week should not only verbally condemn terrorism and terrorist organisations, but must call the spade a spade, and openly confront countries that provide terrorist groups with weapons and money, fuelling wars in the region only to prove they have influence and power.

The disasters that several Arab countries currently suffer should not also lead to ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which the Israeli government is very happy to shelve, using the current state of chaos in the region to establish more facts on the ground, hoping to end forever the aspiration of the Palestinian people to have their own independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. While key Arab countries originally welcomed the new administration in Washington, hoping that it would revive peace talks between Palestine and Israel, the situation got much worse with all the steps Washington took to impose its unilateral vision on how this long-term conflict should be dealt with.

Washington is not entitled to change the terms of reference on which the two sides agreed when they started peace talks in Oslo 25 years ago. The fate of occupied East Jerusalem, the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, removing illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, final borders and water, are all final status issues that the two sides agreed would be settled through negotiations and not through unilateral decisions taken in Washington. The so-called policy of “forcing peace”, or taking thorny final status issues “off the table”, cannot be an acceptable strategy to bring peace.

Meanwhile, many world countries are on the tips of their toes, expecting another wide-scale human disaster in Syria if government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, proceed with plans to restore control over Idlib, the last province which remains under the control of extremist groups. There must be solutions that would end the presence of these groups in Syria without allowing a serious human disaster in which thousands of civilians, including children, could lose their lives.

Libya and Yemen also need similar concerted efforts to end the ongoing civil wars there. Libya needs to rebuild a strong state, a united army and efficient government, instead of letting that oil-rich country live under the mercy of warlords, tribal leaders and armed militias who have no interest in bringing an end to the instability there.

More than three years of war in Yemen have also failed to bring an end to the tragedy Yemenis have been suffering for many years. The United Nations has dubbed the situation in Yemen as one of the worst world disasters, whether in terms of human losses in the war, or in terms of widespread disease and poverty. The situation is unsustainable and world leaders who will meet in New York should not simply state the problem, but work hard to bring solutions.

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