January 01/15

Happy New Year
Elias Bejjani: All genuine wishes for a happy new year with all graces of peace, modesty, forgiveness, love, hope, health and prosperity.

Bible Quotation for today/serve one another humbly in love
Galatians 05/13-26: " You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature. For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants. These two are enemies, and this means that you cannot do what you want to do. If the Spirit leads you, then you are not subject to the Law. What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the Kingdom of God. But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives. We must not be proud or irritate one another or be jealous of one another.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 31/14 -January 01/15
Lebanon in 2015: cause for optimism or pessimism/Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star/December 31/14
In 2014, dark clouds gathered over the Mideast conflict/Yossi Mekelberg /Al Arabiya/December 31/14
In Arab politics, it’s all backstabbing and no backbone/Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya/December 31/14  
Redrafting Sykes-Picot, forever a dangerous idea/Manuel Almeida/Al Aarabiya/December 31/14
Syria ends the year more fragmented than ever/Dr. Halla Diyab /Al Arabiya/December 31/14
Yemen at the end of 2014/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/December 31/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 31/14 -January01/15
UNIFIL Says No Sign of Activity of Terrorist Groups in South
Franjieh Says March 8 Rejects 'Centrist President' as Qmati Visits Rabieh in 'Support' of Christian Dialogue
New alleged ISIS demands impossible: source
Future urges FPM, Hezbollah to end boycott
New Year, new trends, new tastes
Lebanon in 2015: cause for optimism or pessimism?
Hezbollah’s strategic Christmas outreach
U.S. thinkers see strength in Lebanon’s politics
Abu Faour exposes poor conditions at grain silos
NYE partygoers to get free taxi rides
LF, FPM Move to Drop Lawsuits Filed against Each Other
Geagea Says 'Serious' Dialogue with Aoun Aims to Limit Tension
Syria Frees Lebanese, Palestinian Fishermen after 1-Week Detention
Security Members Expelled, Officers Appointed in Reform Plan at Al-Masnaa  
Abou Faour Says Food Safety Campaign Improved State's Position
Berri: Constitutional Council Ruling Obstructs Implementing the New Rent Law
Berri Relieved at International Support for Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue
Suspect Involved in Attacks on Army Arrested in North
Qabbani Says Oil Exploration Meetings Set to Agree on Decrees

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 31/14 -January01/15
Abbas faces more fiascos after the UN rejects his unilateral path to a Palestinian state
Security Council quashes Palestine statehood bid
Palestinian resolution defeated in UN Security Council vote
Palestinians plan next steps after failed UN bid
U.N. envoy to be represented at Syria talks
ISIS publishes ‘interview’ with captured Jordan pilot
Humanitarian crisis grips ISIS-held Anbar territory: medical sources
Doubts remain on NKorea role in Sony attack
Polls to decide ’whether Greece stays in Europe’
Putin critic goes from court to protest to jail
Iran in new deal to boost Iraq army 
Humanitarian crisis grips ISIS-held Anbar territory: medical sources
Tunisia’s new president pledges reconciliation
Sudan aided Libyan militants in oil terminal attack: Tobruk minister
Saudi King Abdullah undergoes medical tests in Riyadh

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
UK Muslima arrested at airport upon her return from the Islamic State
Islamic State releases guide for how to raise jihadi children
Germany: Man stabbed in head and back for shouting “Merry Christmas” in Muslim-dominated area
Nigeria: Islamic jihadis raid village, burn homes, murder at least 15 people
Former Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa: Jews plant “Gharqad” trees to hide from Muslims on Judgment Day
Yemen: Jihad suicide bomber murders 33 celebrating Muhammad’s birthday
Obama releases five more Gitmo detainees
Raymond Ibrahim: Muslim Authorities Say Girls Can Be Married “Even If They Are In The Cradle”
Iran raids house church on Christmas, arrests nine Christians
Islamic State glorifies Sydney siege jihadi Man Haron Monis
Living on Mars is un-Islamic, and five other weird fatwas from 2014
UK: Neighbor says people at house raided by counter-terror police “go to the mosque every Friday”
Islamic State jihadi says he felt joyous when killing people because “I was killing infidels”
Pakistan’s answer to terrorism: show only good news at bedtime
Sharia UK: 19-year-old arrested for video showing him burning Qur’an

A Resolution of Forgiveness for the New Year
Elias Bejjani
January 01/2015
Let us with love and hope share a set of righteous resolutions for this coming New Year based on repentance and forgiveness.  
Let us take a solemn vow to be all through the 265 days forgiving, loving, caring, modest, and fearing Almighty God in our conduct, rhetoric and thoughts.
Let us make our resolution an on going fight against the evil inside our minds, and a promise to tame all our instincts of revenge selfishness, arrogance, lust and enviousness.
In a bid to fulfill our resolutions and vows we need to thoroughly understand this below Biblical verse and equip our selves with its teachings in regards to the theological concept of Spirit and human nature.
"What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature.  For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants. These two are enemies, and this means that you cannot do what you want to do. If the Spirit leads you, then you are not subject to the Law. What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups;  they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the Kingdom of God. But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives. We must not be proud or irritate one another or be jealous of one another. (Galatians 05/16-26)
Definitely it is very difficult to tame the desires of the human nature, BUT if we belief in ourselves and trust in Almighty God, Our loving Father, we shall be triumphant.
With a spirit of faith and self-trust, let us all welcome the New Year, with open hearts and extended hands to all others, especially to those family members, relatives, friends and acquaintances with whom we were not in good terms during the last year.
Let us on day one of this New Year close the last year's messy page and open a new and totally blank one with full readiness for forgiveness, and a genuine willingness for recognizing our wrongdoings in a bid to come with a practical plan for repentance.
Let us all put our burdens, pains, sickness, deprivation, persecution, broken hearts, disappointments, frustrations, bereavements, injustice, abandonment, and anger in the hands of Almighty God and follow the teachings of His Gospel. God, with his gracious wisdom and abundant generosity, shall definitely see in every way possible that we all safely overcome with faith and hope all kinds of failure temptations, hardships and difficulties. Let us all trust in Him and recognize that we are all His beloved children and that He has created us in his image.
We should never ever doubt God's deep love for each and every one of us. How could He not love us when we are His children? How could He abandon us when He has sent his only son, Jesus Christ to defeat death, give us the eternal life, suffer and be crucified so we, His children, can become purified and absolved from the original sin and be helped to walk safely the path of eternal salvation.
Let us ask Almighty God to help us live in peace and harmony with ourselves and others, lead our steps into the righteous paths, grant us the strength of endurance and hold us back from the sin of hurting or hating others.
Let us pray that in this New Year, Our Father, Almighty God, shall grant us the graces of love, meekness, humbleness, transparency, honesty and forgiveness. Maintain our hearts and minds pure, and free from grudges and selfishness. Help us to remember that vengeance is evil and forgiveness is a Godly grace.  Let us pray that Almighty God shall not to allow vengeance to take control of our lives. Being faithful to God's holy teachings, is being loving and forgiving. For when we trust in God and believe in His justice, we ought to leave Him punish those who are evil. "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear". (Matthew 13:43)
God's teachings in regards to vengeance are very clear: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." ( Romans 12:19-21)
This verse frees us from the burden of taking justice into our own hands. It tells us "Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ God will repay those who are righteous"..
Since God is going to take up our cause and see to it that justice is done, we should lay it down, work hard not to succumb to our human destructive and evil instincts.
Let us pray that during this New Year, we don’t have to carry or suffer anger, bitterness, resentment or revenge no matter what is our burden of pain
because refusal to forgive will make it impossible for us to understand and experience the forgiveness of God for us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, by saying:” Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). Then commenting on that prayer, Jesus said, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).
Saint Paul says leave it to the wrath of God. ”Then the wrath of God is defined further as God’s vengeance, “Vengeance is mine.” So wrath is connected with God’s response to something that deserves vengeance. And then it says, “I will repay.” So God’s wrath is treated as a repayment to man for something man has done. This simply means that the wrath of God is God’s settled anger toward sin expressed in the repayment of suitable vengeance on the guilty sinner. God will and shall see that justice is done on the Day of Judgment. So let us be forgiving and avoid any sort of vengeance.
With this New Year, let us pray from the depth of our hearts for all those who hate and hold grudges against us. Let us ask almighty God to cure them from these evil ailments and grant us the grace of forgiveness and the strength of faith to keep loving them.  No one should forget that our live on this earth is too short, and that we must be righteous to deserve the eternal one in Heaven where there will be no pain or fights, but happiness and peace.
With the beginning of the New Year, let us all ask almighty God to shower on every one the graces of health, prosperity, peace, faith, and hope. Let us pray for peace and tranquility in all countries, especially where devastating wars, conflicts, and discrimination are going on. Happy New Year.

LF, FPM Move to Drop Lawsuits Filed against Each Other
Naharnet/The Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement announced Wednesday that they have decided to drop lawsuits filed against journalists and media outlets affiliated with the two political groups. “The legal department has started efforts to drop all lawsuits filed against the FPM's journalists and media outlets over libel and slander against the LF and its chief,” the LF's media department announced in a statement. The FPM's media committee for its part issued a communique announcing that “the FPM's lawyers and legal studies committee has moved to drop libel and slander lawsuits filed against LF-affiliated media outlets and journalists.”The development comes ahead of expected dialogue that the two parties said will be held soon between LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM chief MP Michel Aoun. The LF's statement, however, linked the decision to “the occasion of the Christmas and New Year holidays,” attributing the move to a personal decision by party leader Geagea. The FPM meanwhile said the step is aimed at “propping up accord efforts, at the directions of General Michel Aoun.” MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the FPM and the LF's media officer Melhem Riachi have recently held several meetings aimed at preparing for the Aoun-Geagea talks

UNIFIL Says No Sign of Activity of Terrorist Groups in South
Naharnet/The commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has said there were no signs on the presence of terrorist groups south of the Litani River. “In the area south of the Litani River all the way to the Blue Line there is no sign on the presence of extremist or terrorist groups that would put the stability of south Lebanon in danger,” said Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano. The UNIFIL commander told An Nahar newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday that peacekeepers do not monitor the activities of Palestinian refugee camps. “According to the information we have received so far there are no sleeper cells that could impact stability in our area of operations,” he said in response to a question on the terrorist networks. Asked whether he had fears that some infiltrations by Syrians in the area of Shebaa would facilitate the entry of jihadists to Lebanon from the South, Portolano said: “At the moment, I don't have any sign that what's happening in the North could be repeated in the South.” Jihadists from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group overran the northeastern town of Arsal in August and engaged in heavy clashes with the Lebanese army. The militants took with them hostages from the military and police and executed four of them. Several cases of infiltrations by Syrians have been reported through the southern border town of Shebaa in the past months. In accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which imposed a ceasefire south of the Litani River after the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, UNIFIL and the Lebanese army take measures to ensure that the area between the river and the Blue Line is free of any armed personnel and weapons. Portolano told An Nahar that UNIFIL has so far not received any evidence on the illegal transfer of weapons in its area of operations. However, there have been cases of rocket attacks on Israel, which reveal that there are unauthorized weapons in that area, he said. “That's why UNIFIL remains focused in its mission along with the Lebanese army,” he added. Asked whether there was evidence that Hizbullah possessed weapons in southern Lebanon, Portolano said: “We don't have evidence on the presence of arms for any side and not just Hizbullah.”He also denied that UNIFIL had received information on the activity of Iranian soldiers on the southern border with Israel.

Abou Faour Says Food Safety Campaign Improved State's Position
Naharnet /Health Minister Wael Abou Faour stated on Wednesday that the food safety campaign has seized the media spotlight and improved the state's position, expressing satisfaction at what he and the government have reached so far.“The food safety campaign has seized media spotlight, but I am proud that the government and I have presented an acceptable example to protect the citizen,” said Abou Faour in a press conference. “This campaign has raised the state's position and has proved that nothing is above the law. We have been able to create a common demand for the Lebanese citizens.”Abou Faour added that “the ratio of food samples that do not meet the safety standards are getting fewer. The restaurants and institutions have somewhat acquired a knowledge of the basic requirements for food safety.” On the attempts to tamper with the financial bills of the ministry of health, he said: “Some of the health ministry's financial statements have been tampered with in a bid to cover up the financial scandals.”Earlier, Abou Faour urged Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and the judiciary to join hands in his fight for food safety in the country. “There is not just corruption but a total collapse of the state,” Abou Faour told As Safir newspaper. He called for the announcement of a “state of emergency for health.” Abou Faour asked Berri to call for a parliamentary session to discuss food safety. He also urged Salam to call for an extraordinary cabinet session to take the necessary political decision to move forward in the battle against violations. “There should be a series of administrative, judicial and legal measures that hold accountable all culprits,” said the minister. “Certain people in some institutions are wearing ties but they should be placed in prisons instead,” he added. As Safir said that Abou Faour contacted Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi on Tuesday asking him to speed up the rulings on several cases of food safety violations referred to the judiciary. He proposed the establishment of a general health prosecution to follow up the cases. “Pending parliament's approval of a law in this issue, the prosecutor's office could task certain judges to solely deal with the health file to speed up the procedures” against the violators, Abou Faour said. The minister has been spearheading a campaign against violators for the past two months. He has ordered the closure of restaurants, slaughterhouses and institutions around the country for violating food safety standards. On Wednesday, General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud received a memo from Abou Faour informing him that the grain silos at Beirut Port did not meet the health standards. Abou Faour asked the judge to take the necessary legal measures. The minister inspected the silos on Tuesday, warning that the “Lebanese are sharing wheat with rats and pigeons.”

Franjieh Says March 8 Rejects 'Centrist President' as Qmati Visits Rabieh in 'Support' of Christian Dialogue
Naharnet /Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh stressed Wednesday that his March 8 coalition will not accept the election of a so-called “centrist” president, hoping Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun will manage to win the presidential seat.
“Aoun briefed me on the talks he is conducting … We hope the next president will be an essential partner with everyone and of course we hope the General will reach” the Baabda Palace, Franjieh said after meeting Aoun in Rabieh. The presidential post has been vacant since president Michel Suleiman's term ended on May 25. Lawmakers failed to secure the needed quorum for electing a new president despite holding 16 voting sessions, amid a boycott by the MPs of Aoun and Hizbullah.  Asked about reports that Saudi Arabia has approved of his election as president, Franjieh said he was not aware of such a development, underlining that he will maintain his support for Aoun's candidacy as long as his ally stays in the presidential race. “We will not accept a centrist president and I'm speaking in the name of our entire camp,” added Franjieh. Separately, the Marada leader welcomed the expected dialogue between Aoun and his electoral rival Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, as he noted that “things are still in the beginning stages.”“We hope it will yield results,” he added. Earlier on Wednesday, Aoun's headquarters in Rabieh witnessed a visit by Hizbullah politburo members Mahmoud Qmati and Ghaleb Abou Zaynab. Underscoring his party's support for Aoun's presidential nomination, Qmati noted that Hizbullah's dialogue with al-Mustaqbal movement will continue, as he welcomed the preparations for holding an inter-Christian dialogue. “As for the takfiris in the region, those who backed them in the past are fighting them today and the region is headed for a political solution,” he added.

U.S. thinkers see strength in Lebanon’s political system
Bernd Debusmann/ The Daily Star
Dec. 31, 2014
Decades of Civil War and turmoil in Lebanon have “vaccinated” the country against future turmoil, according to an analysis by two of America’s most eminent thinkers on global risk.
The notion that past bouts of chaos can serve as an indicator of future stability is the central theme of an essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Gregory Treverton in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the influential magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations. Taleb is a Lebanese-American who turned from Wall Street trader to best-selling author and celebrity philosopher. Treverton last September became chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, a post that includes coordinating intelligence forecasts from America’s 16 spy agencies. To bolster their argument that volatility signals stability, and vice versa, the two look at how Syria and Lebanon were perceived at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. “Many pundits argued that Syria’s sturdy police state, which exercised tight control over the country’s people and economy, would survive the Arab Spring undisturbed,” they write. “Compared with its neighbor Lebanon, Syria looked positively stable. Civil War had torn through Lebanon throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 had plunged the country into yet more chaos.”
Yet today Syria is in shambles, they write, while Lebanon has withstood the influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war and related pressures from the turmoil next door. “Surprising as it may seem, the per capita death rate from violence in Lebanon in 2013 was lower than that of Washington D.C.” (The essay, adapted from a report by the RAND institution for which Treverton used to work, was written before Islamist gunmen and Lebanese troops clashed in northern Lebanon).
Why did seemingly stable Syria begin to fall apart while “always-in-turmoil Lebanon” proved more robust than pundits predicted? Syria’s calm facade concealed deep structural vulnerabilities. “Lebanon’s chaos, paradoxically, signaled strength. Fifteen years of civil war had served to decentralize the state and bring about a more balanced sectarian power-sharing structure.” A free-market economy made Lebanon less vulnerable to disruption than Syria with its rigid Soviet-style system.
But the biggest difference between the two neighbors, according to Taleb and Treverton, was that Syria had no recent record of recovering from turmoil. Lebanon did, and “countries that have survived past bouts of chaos tend to be vaccinated against future ones.” In that thinking, the best indicator of a country’s future stability is not past stability but volatility in the recent past.
In looking at Lebanon, Taleb draws from experience: He was 15 when the Civil War reached his family’s home at Amioun and the Lebanese paradise suddenly evaporated, as he phrased it in the foreword of The Black Swan, the 2007 book that made him an international celebrity. The book deals with the role unexpected major events play in world affairs. It has been translated into 33 languages and was credited by some with predicting the banking and economic crisis of 2008.
Expanding their Syria-Lebanon argument to the rest of the world, the two authors identify other countries at risk. Saudi Arabia tops the list, exhibiting signs of being very fragile.
“Saudi Arabia is an easy call: It is extremely dependent on oil, has no political variability and is highly centralized. Its oil wealth and powerful government have papered over the splits between is ethnoreligious units, with the Shiite minority living where the oil is.”
For similar reasons, Bahrain should be considered “extremely fragile,” write the pair. Also on the list of endangered Middle Eastern countries: Egypt. Its recovery from the chaos of the revolution has been largely cosmetic and the government is still highly centralized and bureaucratic. Outside the Middle East, Venezuela and Russia face trouble in the future. Both have oil-based economies, highly centralized political systems and no record of having survived massive shocks. In contrast, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand survived the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, drew lessons from it and adjusted their institutions and practices. In western Europe, Taleb and Treverton view one country as particularly robust, for reasons that echo their view of Lebanon. “Italy, paradoxically, shows no sign of fragility,” they write. It is decentralized and has bounced back from perennial political crises that gave the country 14 prime ministers in the past 25 years. Bernd Debusmann is a former Reuters world affairs columnist. This article was written exclusively for The Daily Star.

Lebanon in 2015: cause for optimism or pessimism?
Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star/Dec. 31, 2014
BEIRUT: After months of uncertainty and turmoil, 2014 is finally nearing its end, and few will be sorry to see it go. From suicide bombings to a 7-month-old presidential vacuum, the second extension of Parliament’s mandate to political divisions preventing state institutions from functioning properly, Lebanon has been through the wringer this year.But what does 2015 hold? The Daily Star spoke to nine analysts and experts to find out what they think is in store for Lebanon come the new year. A presidential election is a distinct possibility at some point next year, most agreed, although all said it was heavily linked to the regional situation, including the war in Syria, relations between geopolitical rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, and talks to resolve suspicions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear infrastructure.
“It remains hard to tell right now,” admitted Imad Salamey, a professor in political science at the Lebanese American University.  “Given some of the rapprochement that’s taking place between various contending regional players, particularly Iran, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and considering some positive signs coming out of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and given we are about to see some talks between Future and Hezbollah, it’s very possible within five or six months we arrive at a solution to this issue.”
“The Iranian nuclear [talks] deadline in March will tell us a lot.”
The self-imposed deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capabilities is currently set for March 1.
“We are waiting for an agreement between Iran and p5+1,” agreed Hisham Jaber, the head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Public Affair, referring to the five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. “I do believe if there is a breakthrough in the region, we will have a president. The president in Lebanon is not elected in Lebanon, it’s a regional and international issue. We cannot deny this, otherwise we would have one already.”
This opinion was echoed by many.
“I don’t think there will be any chance of an agreement on a president before the Iran nuclear negotiations,” said Mario Abou Zeid, a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
He also pointed to the likelihood of a package deal covering several issues if the presidential file came unstuck: “If an agreement is reached on a president, definitely there will be an agreement on the electoral law and the makeup of the Cabinet.”
The recently launched dialogue between rivals the Future Movement and Hezbollah is a positive step, most agreed, and one that might “usher in a new momentum” on the political scene, said Randa Slim, a Lebanese-American political analyst at the Middle East Institute.
“That will lead to an agreement on a package deal that will include a new electoral law and a new consensus presidential candidate.”
Not everyone thought that a presidential election would come along with long-awaited electoral reform, however, with some saying that the idea of inviting such massive structural change was ludicrous at a time of such instability.
“It’s the No. 1 reform to be undertaken, but it requires a wide agreement ... and more time, a different mood than we have now,” said Sami Nader, a professor of economics and international relations at the Universite St. Joseph and the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs think tank.
“If they agree on an electoral law, that means they have to go to elections despite already extending their terms twice. They are not ready for elections ... Why? Because they are so busy with what’s inside Syria, they don’t have the capacity to manage elections here.”
What all the analysts did agree on, however, was that the two current presidential candidates, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, backed by March 14, and Free Patriotic Movement head Michel Aoun, supported by March 8, are far too controversial to be elected.
“We can rule out Mr. Geagea and Mr. Aoun for sure, because Lebanon needs a consensus figure,” said LAU’s Salamey. Instead, most pointed to Army chief Jean Kahwagi, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, or, less likely, former Minister Jean Obeid as presidential possibles. “In view of the threat posed by radical Islamic groups throughout the region, I am willing to bet that the next president will be Jean Kahwagi,” said Hilal Khashan, professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut. “Having said that, I do not think we will have a new president in 2015.”If a president is elected, the current Cabinet would automatically be dissolved, putting the post of prime minister – the highest political Sunni post in the country – back up for grabs. So who might be in the running to take it?
“This is complicated, but my guess is that, if indeed we do have a political breakthrough ... Hezbollah would be content to give March 14 this post,” said Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “Provided they respect certain ‘red lines’ about Hezbollah’s militia, etc.” While a third of the analysts name-checked Future leader and former premier Saad Hariri as a front runner, the majority thought his appointment was unlikely at the moment. “It’s not likely under the circumstances,” Itani said. “Our friendly neighbors would probably kill him. But there are plenty of Sunnis lying around. [Interior Minister] Nouhad al-Machnouk comes to mind.”Another clear candidate for the premiership was current Prime Minister Tammam Salam, whom analysts praised as both uncontroversial and inoffensive.
“I think probably Tammam Salam or Machnouk [will become premier],” said Kamel Wazne, a Beirut-based political analyst. “Hariri is distant possibility because I don’t think he wants it. It will be him or someone he designates.”Analysts were also quizzed on the likelihood of a range of other developments taking place in 2015, including: a new campaign of suicide bombings; Hezbollah ending its military involvement in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad; the Special Tribunal for Lebanon finishing its work investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; a significant military confrontation with Israel; and some sort of movement on the stagnating efforts to tap Lebanon’s offshore oil reserves. Predictions were largely mixed, but two results stood out clearly.
All agreed that Lebanon would probably see a return of suicide bombings, and all but one thought it was nigh-on impossible that Hezbollah would withdraw its troops from Syria in 2015.  “The chances of Hezbollah ending its involvement in Syria is so low, it doesn’t even register on the scale,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the blog Hizballah Cavalcade.  “The fighting is continuing, Hezbollah is digging in its heels, and the group has been in the process of the building of local surrogates.”
A sunny picture of Lebanon’s future indeed.

Lebanese security source: New alleged ISIS and Nusra demands are impossible
Hashem Osseiran/Samya Kullab/ The Daily Star
Dec. 31, 2014
BEIRUT: A new set of alleged demands to free servicemen held by ISIS relayed by an unofficial mediator Tuesday are “impossible” to meet if they are indeed authentic, a security source told The Daily Star. The demands, which include establishing a safe zone from the outskirts of Arsal to Tfail for Syrian refugees, were relayed by informal mediator Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, whose status as an intermediary was questioned by the families of the captives. “They basically want their own state,” the source said, casting doubt on the willingness of refugees to reside in the zone even if it were established. “Meeting these demands is impossible,” the source said. Amid a wave of skepticism and frustration from the families of 25 Lebanese hostages held by the Nusra Front and ISIS, the rumored mediator, Masri, who claims to be negotiating with ISIS, publicly announced Tuesday the demands allegedly relayed to him by the jihadi group. The sheikh’s very public – and at times theatrical – delivery of the demands ran contrary to the government’s policy of secrecy over the hostage issue.
Masri announced three demands at a news conference in Riad al-Solh Square that he claims were conveyed to him during a meeting earlier Tuesday on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal where the militant group is ensconced.
They included the establishment of a weapons-free safe zone for Syrian refugees, stretching from the border region of Wadi Hmayyed, down through the outskirts of the village of Tfail. The second demand was for the formation of a hospital to treat refugees wounded in battles with Hezbollah.
The third called for the release of all “Muslim female detainees imprisoned in Lebanese jails on charges related to the Syrian crisis,” Masri said. He did not clarify the nature of the charges or whether ISIS was demanding the general release of all Muslim or Syrian female detainees. Midway through the conference, Masri said a member of his entourage had informed him that ISIS had announced its willingness to stop executing captives under certain conditions. One of the conditions required the Lebanese Army to open a passage to Wadi Hmayyed, Masri later told The Daily Star, adding that ISIS was not calling for the removal of checkpoints, but was demanding that the military open roads to the outskirts. The sheikh said the militants would break their vow if measures were taken against the town of Arsal.
Masri also said the militants were demanding the release of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife Saja al-Dulaimi, and Ola al-Oqaily, the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas.The pledge to halt executions for the time being was also contingent on the continuance of negotiations, he added, warning that any “wrongdoings” could lead to the killing of more soldiers. The families of the captives were unsettled by the lack of official confirmation from ISIS that it had tasked Masri to conduct talks.
“I told him that I want an official document stamped by ISIS indicating they had appointed him for the negotiations,” said Omar Haidar, a spokesperson for the families.
The spokesperson told The Daily Star he got confirmation from unidentified sources that Masri had in fact gone to the outskirts Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean he met with the mediators. We don’t really know who he met,” Haidar said, expressing his frustration over the state of confusion that has plagued the case.  Haidar also opposed the alleged demands by ISIS, specifically that Lebanon create safe zone for refugees. “We reject this unacceptable demand,” Haidar said. “It would mean that even the Army can’t enter the area.”
Haidar said that the last time he had been contacted by the captors, they told him that Arsal Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti, who was endorsed by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, had been appointed, along with several other figures, to mediate talks with ISIS.
“I just called Fliti before the conference and he was shocked that Masri went to the outskirts,” the spokesperson said, quoting the deputy mayor as saying that he had not received any information from ISIS concerning Masri. “Under what authority and in whose name is he making this trip?” Haidar quoted Fliti as saying. Fliti refused to comment when contacted by The Daily Star, citing the confidentiality of the file in line with the government’s no-talk policy. Hussein Youssef, another spokesperson for the families of the captive servicemen, echoed Haidar’s remarks. “Honestly, we don’t trust anyone anymore, we’ve become a ball that everyone throws around.” Youssef said an official statement from the militant groups was needed to proceed with negotiations. “We are still waiting on that,” he added. “Then we can start working as hard as we can to meet the demands.”Separately, the National News Agency said the Lebanese Army pounded gatherings of militants on the outskirts of Arsal Tuesday evening.

Future Bloc urges FPM, Hezbollah to end boycott
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
Dec. 31, 2014
BEIRUT: The parliamentary Future bloc implicitly called Tuesday on MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah to end their boycott so that Parliament can convene to elect a president and overcome the 7-month-old “dangerous presidential vacuum.”
The bloc also defended its dialogue with Hezbollah, stressing it should be accompanied by “practical steps” to reduce sectarian tensions in the country and restore the state’s role in extending its authority and sovereignty over all Lebanese territory.
Speaker Nabih Berri, meanwhile, said the Future-Hezbollah dialogue was aimed, among other things, at creating “a fertile ground” to benefit from any regional understanding, in a clear reference to a possible Saudi-Iranian rapprochement that would reflect positively on the presidential deadlock. In New Year greetings to the Lebanese, the Future bloc hoped that 2015 would carry with it “different developments” that would help overcome the current crisis that has left Lebanon without a president for more than seven months, paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening to impede the government’s work.
“The bloc hopes that the obstructers [of the presidential vote] will act to enable the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president for the country in order to overcome the dangerous and harmful presidential vacuum and restore balance to Lebanese constitutional institutions,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The statement was apparently referring to lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc and Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies who have been blamed for thwarting a quorum for Parliament electoral sessions with their consistent boycott. They have demanded an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate for the presidency.Parliament has repeatedly failed since April due to a lack of quorum to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.  The bloc’s statement came a day after Berri called for a new Parliament session to elect a president on Jan. 7 amid signs that the session was destined to fail like the previous 17 abortive attempts as the rival March 8 and March 14 parties remain at odds over who should be a consensus candidate to fill the country’s top Christian post. Prime Minister Tammam Salam as well as Future MPs and rival politicians have voiced hopes that the first dialogue session that kicked off last week between senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah would help break the presidential stalemate.
A second round of talks between the two rival influential parties is expected to be held on Jan. 5 at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh. Referring to the talks with Hezbollah, the bloc said: “The dialogue should be accompanied by practical steps on the ground that would end all breaches against sanctity of the law, state sovereignty and citizens’ dignity and boost confidence among the Lebanese.”“These steps should stress the need for stability and adherence to coexistence in the country in a way that would help strengthen the state authority and its institutions and enable it to spread its sovereignty and authority over all Lebanese soil,” the statement said. Stressing that dialogue was the only way to resolve outstanding problems between the rival Lebanese factions, the bloc hoped that talks with Hezbollah would produce “practical steps” to reduce sectarian tensions in the country exacerbated by the war in Syria. “The need has become urgent to restore security and stability in Lebanon on the basis of respecting the state and boosting its sovereignty,” it added.
Berri, the sponsor of the Future-Hezbollah talks, said the second dialogue session would be held at the beginning of the New Year with one specific item agreed by the two sides in the agenda. He did not disclose details of this item.
“Some have propagated that the Hezbollah-Future dialogue is an indirect dialogue between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying. “If this was interpreted as such, that’s fine. I don’t deny this accusation, even though I do not represent the two countries in my dialogue initiative, but I was driven in the first place by internal Lebanese considerations,” he added. Berri, according to visitors, voiced satisfaction with the local and foreign reactions to the Future-Hezbollah talks, saying he had received a message of support for this dialogue from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, in addition to “positive stances” expressed by the U.S., Saudi and Iranian ambassadors in Beirut.
The speaker said among the goals of the dialogue was to set the stage for “a fertile ground” to benefit from any possible deal by regional powers. “The U.S.-Iranian dialogue would eventually lead to results. This would reflect positively on the issue of Saudi-Iranian relations once Riyadh has been given necessary assurances,” he said. “The Hezbollah-Future dialogue constituted an incentive for the Maronites to launch a dialogue between them,” Berri said, referring to attempts to arrange a rare meeting between the two Maronite rivals, Aoun and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea. For his part, Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri said unity among rival Christian parties would help end the presidential impasse within two months. “Once the Christians are united and if an honest political will exists, all matters [over the presidential crisis] will be solved,” Asiri told MTV station.

Palestinian resolution defeated in UN Security Council vote
Agence France Presse/Dec. 31, 2014/UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council failed Tuesday to adopt a resolution on Palestinian statehood by a vote of eight to two, with five abstentions. France, China and Russia were among the countries that supported the text setting a 12-month deadline for negotiations on a final peace deal with Israel.  Australia and the United States voted against

In 2014, dark clouds gathered over the Mideast conflict
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Yossi Mekelberg /Al Arabiya
Under the beautiful clear blue skies of Tel Aviv, where thousands of Israelis are basking in the sun in bustling cafes, one can easily forget that political, social and economic clouds are gathering. Reflecting on 2014 paints quite a grim picture. This past year marks another failure of diplomatic attempts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This attempt was followed by 50 days of war in Gaza, which left thousands of people, mainly innocent, killed, and was accompanied by widespread devastation. The Israeli economy, which seemed immune to the ills of the global economy, is dangerously slowing down and turning into one of the most uneven in the developed world in terms of wealth distribution. The collapse of the third Netanyahu government towards the end of the year, after only just 20 months, was further evidence of Israeli political fragmentation, let alone of a political system which has become almost ungovernable. Moreover, the ongoing instability in the neighboring countries presents severe challenges for the Jewish state. On the eve of a new year, it remains to be answered whether the next year spells doom and gloom. Or is there a faint hope that things may change for the better?
“The failure to form a coherent government results in an inability to take any courageous steps in the negotiations for peace with the Palestinians”
Contemporary Israel is full of paradoxes which makes any forecast a puzzling task. Most Israelis understand the need for a peaceful end to the conflict with the Palestinians, yet continue to vote for parties which do exactly the opposite. It is more affluent than ever, but there are also more people living in poverty than ever, including one-third of its children. It is a country which prides itself on its democratic structures and traditions, but discriminates against minorities and its people are rather stoic about the widespread corruption. The list of paradoxes is a long one and not surprisingly it confuses most observers of the Israeli society. It is unlikely that the forthcoming elections in March will bring any magic cure to the ills of Israeli society. Once again the voters are presented with a choice from a lengthy list of parties, which pledge undeliverable promises on a wide range of issues. The voters in return will most likely deliver a fragmented legislature and consequently another coalition government with parties that have very little in common. Worse, these parties see the interest of the country through their very narrow prism, even when they serve in government. Hence, Israel is likely to endure another government, which cannot and does not want to take any far reaching decisions necessary for a change of direction.
No courageous steps
First and foremost, the failure to form a coherent government results in an inability to take any courageous steps in the negotiations for peace with the Palestinians. Successive governments prevailed only by perceiving security almost solely through the prism of using military power, and caving into settlers’ demands. Consequently, political, economic and social priorities are distorted within Israeli society. The collapse of the peace process, together with the Israeli incapacity to understand the potential in the Palestinian reconciliation government and the conflict in the summer in Gaza, represented the narrow minded security paradigm that the Israeli decision making system is operating within. Tragically they all represent a complete lack of sophistication, short-sightedness and intellectual inflexibility within the Israeli government. If Netanyahu is to form the next government, he might do it without the more moderate elements of Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid. He might opt, for stability's sake, for a coalition with the more extreme right and the ultra-orthodox parties. This will leave any prospect for peace unfeasible, unless the international community gets its act together and continues in the direction it started towards at the end of the year. The recognition of a Palestinian state without waiting for Israel's acquiesce, has been a major shift in the policy in some EU countries and Parliaments. It puts Israel under increasing international pressure. With President Obama free from elections, he might join the EU's show of muscle in promoting the peace process. He has already demonstrated readiness to take on the Cuban lobby in the U.S., and it remains to be seen if he and his administration can follow this with a similar approach towards the Israeli lobby in Washington. Without this the peace process has no prospects of succeeding in 2015 any more than it had during this past year.
Without the international community explicitly expressing the benefits of reaching a peace agreement, based on two state solution, and the costs in failing to do so, I cannot foresee that any progress will be achieved. This is of course unless the Israeli elections produce a very unlikely result which favors the peace camp. Along a similar vein, more and more Israelis increasingly understand the desperate need for the reconstruction of Gaza, not only for the benefit of the Gazan people, but in equal measures for Israeli interests. There are some signs of the easing of access to the Gaza Strip, but these small concessions are far from matching the desperate needs of its inhabitants. Without adequate access, the next year will most likely see a gradual resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
Unresolved conflict
The cloud of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians has affected Israeli society and will continue to do so. It enables a lesser leadership, which thrives on the conflict to harness the power of fear and nationalism to their political advantage. It does not allow the space for the Israeli society to address many of its other challenges. The economic growth generated wealth, but it was done in a way which pushed many into poverty and priced out many young people from joining the property ladder. Hardly a day goes by without headlines about corruption affairs being unraveled by the police, and more often than not, in which politicians are deeply embroiled. Moreover, this year saw an attempt to pass a nation-state law, which had it been successful would have left the Arab minority further disadvantaged and discriminated. In a vain effort to underline the Jewishness of the state, the right in Israel revealed its shallow nationalistic understanding of Judaism, and lack of real vision of what it is to be Jewish and democratic.
The coming year provides Israelis with an opportunity to say farewell to quite a dreadful year and make a real change through the ballot box. If they do not take this opportunity, they may find themselves internationally isolated and ostracized. It becomes increasingly more likely that a Palestinian state will be recognized worldwide, even without a peace agreement with Israel. This will change the nature of relations and negotiations between the two political entities to the advantage of the Palestinians. Without bringing an end to the corrupting occupation of Palestinian territory, and to destructive policies at home, Israel is running the risk of losing any credibility abroad and tearing its own society apart.

Security Council quashes Palestine statehood bid
The Daily Star/Dec. 31, 2014/BEIRUT: The U.N. Security Council Tuesday rejected Palestine’s bid for statehood as permanent member U.S. voted “no,” in a move likely to enrage Arab allies. The resolution secured eight “yes” votes on the 15-member council, one fewer than was required for passage, as the U.S. rejected what it called an unhelpful attempt to impose a two-year deadline on peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. France, Russia and China voted “yes” while the U.K. and four other countries abstained. Australia joined the U.S. in voting “no.”Washington’s Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the draft would “undermine efforts” underway at a two-state solution, although the latest bid at peacemaking collapsed in April. She said the draft served the interest of only one side to the conflict, namely the Palestinians, while ignoring Israel’s “legitimate security concerns.”  “This resolution sets the stage for more confrontation, not more compromise,” she said. The vote capped a three-month campaign by the Palestinians at the U.N. to win support for a resolution that sets a timeframe for ending the Israeli occupation. The resolution called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories to be completed no later than the end of 2017.Earlier Monday, the Palestinians presented changes to the text, toughening up language on East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and demanding an end to Jewish settlement building.

In Arab politics, it’s all backstabbing and no backbone
Wednesday, 31 December 2014 /Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya
In the Middle East right now, the wise do not dare to predict. Who back in 2010 came even close to foreseeing where the region is today? In four years the mood pendulum has swung violently from resigned helplessness, to over-hyped frenetic optimism to rank despair. As 2014 exits in ignominy, the Middle East lottery is in full swing as to which country, area or people are hit next by the latest round of conflict and brutal violence. There are to my mind five standout features in 2014 that need to be addressed over the coming year.
The first stand out feature was clearly the move of ISIS to the center stage with its self-proclaimed statehood and ruthless acquisition of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Its success not least in recruiting over 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries makes al-Qaeda seem so very 20th century. But rapid success can also lead to rapid failure. The ISIS bandwagon has nearly run aground and its support may be flat lining. The initial surge replaced by more somber assessment of what is probable. Cities and towns under its control get only a few hours of electricity and limited clean water. Is the stardust wearing off as some fighters are reportedly trying to abandon the ISIS juggernaut? Yet ISIS is a symbol of international and regional failure, an abiding desire of so many especially the young to change the existing order. The second feature is the continued lack of regional leadership and continued bickering. There is a lot of backstabbing but no backbone.
Throes of chaos
Even with four Arab states in the throes of chaos – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen; with Israel hammering Gaza and colonizing the West Bank; with Jordan and Lebanon engulfed by the fallout; there has not been one coherent Arab peace plan. Israel, Turkey and Iran still look the players most able to define the agenda even though they too like their Arab counterparts, declining influence and status internationally.
Inter-Arab rivalries are, if anything, worse and often bitter and personal. Even supposed allies back rival groups and present differing plans to resolve Syria. It took the success of ISIS to scare regional powers that had backed rival Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq into limited action. Yet for some, there is still the expectation that the United States has to do all the heavy lifting. Nobody in the region is overwhelmed by the Arab participation in the anti-ISIS coalition. Where are the Arab boots on the ground?
“The recipe for a rejuvenated region will be complicated and tough but 2015 must see a solutions surge”
The third feature is the continued lack of international strategy and leadership. Yet at least in 2014 diplomacy was given a fleeting chance with active attempts on Syria, Palestine and Iran whereas in 2013 there was none. The Ukraine crisis and the Russian occupation of the Crimea smashed any residual chance of a common Syrian strategy. Whilst the West demands an end to that occupation it does not have the guts to demand the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Here occupation is just routine, normal. Palestinians are left to celebrate the limited symbolic victories of various European Parliaments calling for recognition of a state still under occupation, blockade and colonization. The Iran talks look the most promising but the Republican-dominated Congress in 2015 is in no mood to let Obama crown his presidency with an historic legacy-saving deal. Cuba may have to suffice.
Fourthly, the entire regional order is close to being dismantled in the worst case scenario atomized into power groups and territory based on ethnicity and sect. Diversity is seen as a weakness not a strength with minorities paying the heaviest of prices, notably the Yazidis. Christians are being driven out of the lands of their birth where the world’s earliest churches will either be rubble or museums. ISIS is fashioning a Sunni Muslim state, whilst Israeli politicians insist Israel be a “Jewish state.” The Kurds are ever more convinced that independence is their only option.
The fifth and perhaps most heartbreaking feature of 2014 is that all the above failures have shattered millions and millions of innocent lives. The grimmest statistic of 2014 is that over 13 million Syrians and Iraqis have been displaced. I dare anyone to guess how much larger this damning figure will get. The implications are huge. The richer states are largely not opening their doors. Britain has a shameful record of taking just a busload of vulnerable Syrian refugees. As a result the Mediterranean has become the deadliest sea route in the world according to the U.N. with 207,000 people (three times the previous record) trying to cross its treacherous waters into Europe with almost 3,500 having perished.
International donors can no longer fund the massive U.N. aid programs and tend to pledge to causes that attract media attention. Palestinians in Gaza barely get a mention no so can one be surprised that a mere two percent of the $5.4 billion pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza has so far been delivered.
The recipe for a rejuvenated region will be complicated and tough but 2015 must see a solutions surge. The region needs strong, energetic positive leadership, a clarity and unity of purpose amongst the leading players and international backing to bring these conflicts to a close. Only then can Middle East soothsayers and forecasters crawl out of the woodwork and ply their trade. The region needs some boring predictability.

Redrafting Sykes-Picot, forever a dangerous idea
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Manuel Almeida/Al Aarabiya
Looking back on 2014, it was a tragic year for too many people in the Arab world and a sad and disappointing one to anyone concerned with the fate of the region. As in previous years, the region’s multiple crises continued to be the subject of numerous books and analyses by Arab and non-Arab commentators and experts, often putting forward solutions to tackle an endless list of pressing problems. This year, I have come across many sensible points. Yet I have also heard and read some puzzling ideas.
If I had to name the bad idea of the year, it would probably be the argument that the partition of countries such as Iraq and Syria should not only go un-opposed but, if properly managed, could be a better alternative to current situation. This idea is by no means exclusive to the year that is now ending, but it has made the rounds again now that the disintegration of Syria and Iraq (not to mention Yemen and Libya) no longer looks like such a remote possibility.
“To look at today’s sectarian tensions and violence in Iraq and Syria as an inevitable result of the unwillingness of Sunni and groups to co-habit within the same states is wrong for many reasons”
Manuel Almeida
The pro-partition argument usually recalls how British and French imperialists, once the belief set in that the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was imminent, started to divide the spoils and defined many of the region’s territorial borders in complete disregard of the complex reality on the ground. Most infamous among those machinations is the British-French agreement of 1916, which came out of the proposal put forward by the young British politician Mark Sykes and negotiated by the French veteran diplomat François Georges-Picot. The Sykes-Picot agreement, as it became known, split the territories of today’s Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan into British and French spheres of control and agreed on an international administration for the territories of contemporary Palestine and Israel.
Territorial borders
Contrary to what still seems to be widely assumed, what the agreement did not do was set territorial borders. These were discussed in 1920 during the San Remo conference and most were defined much later (such as the Iraq-Syria border, in 1932), but this is a matter of factual accuracy that changes nothing today.
More important is that, at the time, the agreement was already haunted by the feeling that the end-result of such an arbitrary and arrogant plan could not be a good one, although such considerations were overlooked by the greediness of British and French imperialists. “The art of arranging how men are to live is even more complex than that of massacring them”, later admitted Georges Clemenceau, the prime minister of France between 1917 and 1920.
The same awareness of toying with disaster was also present a couple of decades after the Sykes-Picot agreement, when the British struggled to make a decision on what to do with Palestine before leaving the problem in the hands of the U.N. Back then, Foreign Office diplomats believed that the creation of two separate states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish, was not economically viable.
It is clear that the artificial foundations of these states and the instrumental use by European imperialists of local groups and sensitivities plays a role in today’s instability. Yet it is wrong to think that out of that artificiality no true sense of nation and nationality, even if a fragile one, was able to develop.
Sectarian tensions
To look at today’s sectarian tensions and violence in Iraq and Syria as an inevitable result of the unwillingness of Sunni and groups to co-habit within the same states is wrong for many reasons. It assumes that sectarianism is essentially a cause of the region’s troubles, instead of a symptom of other ills such as despotism, radicalism, foreign interference and poor governance. It also ignores a long history of tolerance and co-existence and it paints an inaccurate picture of what is far more complex reality. Just as simple examples, many important Iraqi tribes have Sunni and Shiite members and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Sunni have traditionally lived in the Southeast where the Shiite predominate.
So the idea that by separating Shiite and Sunni populations into different territories could put an end to sectarian strife shows the same paternalistic mentality of the colonial era. This time, according to that logic, borders would be redrawn and millions of people would be forced to move to live alongside the same sect.
This, of course, would turn the threat of a sectarian divide in the Middle East into a self-fulfilling prophecy and hand over a victory to the instigators of sectarian hatred on both sides of the barricade. The assumption that such territorial divisions would make for better neighbours and better rulers seems also deeply flawed.
Then there are key questions such as international recognition and economic viability. Take the case of the autonomous but landlocked Kurdish region in Iraq. While it is difficult to argue that Kurdistan is not worthy of independent statehood, both challenges could yet prove too great for Iraqi Kurds’ independence ambitions.
If Iraq or Syria ever reach the point of formal partition, that would be a massive regional and international failure and not something to be welcomed as an opportunity to turn the page on the actions of European imperialists while following in their footsteps.

Syria ends the year more fragmented than ever
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Dr. Halla Diyab /Al Arabiya
The most sensible solution to Syria’s upheaval is peace through diplomacy, but is this realistic given the distrust between the government and opposition? With a regime that has a history of haggling, and opposition groups more concerned about power than how to end the war, peace seems too good to be true. Russia is proposing a re-launch of peace talks in early 2015, which would include Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, former president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. He resigned because he thought he could be more effective working outside the coalition. Respected by Syrians as a Sunni former imam, and sympathetic toward certain Islamist militias, Khatib is seen by Russia as a potential mediator with Islamist rebels to agree a ceasefire and implement a political agreement. Unlike Syrian dissidents who have been in exile for decades, Khatib lived in Syria and has widespread support inside the country. “To achieve a ceasefire, armed groups should agree first to stop fighting each other. Even then, a political settlement with the very regime they have been fighting for four years seems unviable” There is a disconnect between political opposition groups and rebel forces fighting on the ground. To achieve a ceasefire, these armed groups should agree first to stop fighting each other. Even then, a political settlement with the very regime they have been fighting for four years seems unviable.
Moderates vs. extremists
The debate over which rebel groups are moderate or extremist constitutes a complex obstacle to negotiations. Most rebel fighters belong to various Islamist factions, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Al-Farouq Brigade, Syria’s Martyrs’ Brigade and Al-Tawhid Brigade. They do not hesitate to cooperate with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, against the regime. A recent report by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue says the armed opposition “has become hopelessly radicalized.” So what would stop these rebel fighters from allying with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria if the Russian initiative does not include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down?
With Washington panicking over the threat posed by ISIS, the United States is skeptical about the military structure of rebel fighters, and realize that a friend today might be an enemy tomorrow. The Americans have a different vision to that of the Russians. Washington is working to build and equip a new ground force to focus on fighting ISIS, backed by coalition airstrikes. The American strategy conveys that fighting the jihadist group is top of the U.S. agenda. This might push rebel fighters to cooperate with Islamist groups that share the priority of toppling Assad. The Americans might conclude that Assad can protect Damascus from falling to ISIS, and that negotiations between the regime and opposition groups will allow them to focus on fighting the jihadists, restricting them to northern Syria.
Moscow says it will involve the Americans if the Syrians agree to meet in Russia for talks. Washington will only back the Russian proposal in the hope that a ceasefire will help U.S.-led operations against ISIS. The priority for Gulf Arab states is to prevent the spread of ISIS to their region, and to set up a unified military command and an Interpol-like agency to counter regional foe Iran as well as terrorist groups. With ISIS demoralized by substantial losses due to U.S.-led airstrikes, and hundreds of its members trying to quit, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad is occupied with rewriting its image through its online propaganda machine. His goal does not include toppling Assad or fighting perpetrators of crimes against Muslims, despite his claims to the contrary. Rather, he seeks to justify his own narrative of violence against the very Muslims he is supposedly fighting for.

Yemen at the end of 2014
Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya
The year 2014 has ended with a new situation in Yemen. Abdul Malik Badr al-Din al-Houthi, leader of Ansar Allah, announced the establishment of a system that replaces what was established in 1962, when the imamate ended. To him, the Sept. 21 revolution - the day the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa - destroyed the Sept. 26 revolution upon which the Yemeni republic was established. The Houthis are frank and clear, unlike other factions. There will now be no Yemeni government without the approval of Ansar Allah, which is linked to Iran. There is a zone that has come under the complete control of the Houthis, who seek to expand in all directions. In the worst-case scenario, they can settle for their own territorial entity which they can turn into a state, with a naval port, a long border with Saudi Arabia, but no institutions. “Supporting Yemen without a master plan implemented by capable parties on the ground is similar to filling water in a leaking bottle.”
What can Ansar Allah do for ordinary people? Is Iran willing to pump millions of dollars a year to support the Yemeni economy? Can Iran bear the burden of Yemen just because it has a coherent armed militia with similar slogans such as “death to America, death to Israel and damn the Jews”? Supporting Yemen without a master plan implemented by capable parties on the ground is similar to filling water in a leaking bottle. What can be done now amid the collapse of the state? If Iran could build, it would have used its oil resources to serve its own people, half of whom, if not more, live below the poverty line.
There is no doubt that Tehran now has a presence in a strategic area on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, and that the Houthis must not be underestimated. However, declaring victory is one thing, while reality is another.
Yemen is not an easy country. One need only ask the Egyptians, whose late President Gamal Abdel Nasser sent his best troops there in the 1960s. The Yemeni adventure cost him and Egypt a lot, and suggested an almost complete ignorance of the country and its complexities. Iran used to think it controlled Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and that Bahrain would collapse, but it was wrong on all counts. Wherever Iran is present, there is resistance to it, its sectarianism and expansionism. Tehran is capable of imposing a new reality in Yemen, but it can only expand so far. The end of 2014 sees fierce resistance to the Houthis in central Yemen.

Abbas faces more fiascos after the UN rejects his unilateral path to a Palestinian state
DEBKAfile Special Report December 31, 2014,
The United Nations Security Council Tuesday night, Dec. 30, rejected a Palestinian resolution demanding that Israel withdraw from disputed territories within three years. The motion fell one short of the minimum nine "yes" votes in the Security Council, confirming debkafile’s reporting ahead of the vote. The US and Australia voted against; Russia, China, France, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg voted in favor and the UK, Lithuania Nigeria, South Korea and Rwanda abstained.
The document called for Israel to fully withdraw from all “occupied Palestinian territories” by the end of 2017 and for a comprehensive peace deal to be reached within a year. It also called for new negotiations to take place based on territorial lines that existed prior to the 1967 war in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip..
The resolution was submitted by Jordan after its endorsement by 22 Arab states and the Palestinian Authority.
After the vote, the Palestinian delegation claimed it had been surprised by Nigeria’s abstention. However, that was just a pretense. Nigeria had been persuaded some time ago by the US and Israel not to endorse the resolution. Indeed, shortly before the vote, the Israeli prime minister talked by phone to the rulers of Nigeria and Rwanda.
The vote was also a setback to the politicians running against Likud for the March 17 general election. They maintain tirelessly that Netanyahu has dragged Israel into international isolation and lost the ability even to raise an American veto against a hostile Security Council resolution.
His leading detractors on this score are the two Labor leaders Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, the Future leader Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, although he serves as foreign minister in the Netanyahu government.
In fact, it turned out well before Tuesday night that the United States was perfectly ready to slap down its veto if the Abbas motion managed to gain nine votes. US Ambassador Samantha Power strongly rebuked the Palestinians for their action “because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table,” she said.
The Palestinians may fare no better if they submit their motion again to the Security Council after Jan. 2015 in the hope of a more favorable reception by its new lineup. They may be in for a surprise from India. debkafile’s diplomatic sources report that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considering abstaining or even opposing Abbas’ motion, seriously jolting the Palestinians who had always counted on India as a leading member of the nonaligned bloc of nations automatically acting as the backbone of their support in the world body.
India’s turnaround would represent another diplomatic feat for the Netanyahu government and demonstrate Israel’s real strength in Asia and the Middle East.
The French vote for the Palestinian motion was not unexpected. Paris is spearheading Europe’s anti-Israel stance in an attempt to boost its military ties with the Persian Gulf nations.
Straight after their fiasco in New York, the Palestinians announced their leaders would meet in Ramallah the next day and decide on their next step. Abbas proposes immediately applying to join the Rome Treaty to advance their bid for accredited statehood. One of his first actions would be to prosecute Israeli for war crimes at the International Court at the Hague.
American officials in Washington pointed out before the Council vote that the Palestinians are unlikely to get very far in their suit. The court’s standing is ambiguous: it is not recognized by the US, Israel, Russia, India or China and has held no more than 21 trials in decades. The court has so far evaded cases against national leaders responsible for the most heinous crimes and causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, like Syria’s Beshar Assad.
Even if the international court accepts the Palestinian case, they themselves will have opened the door to the prosecution of countless numbers of Palestinians responsible for decades of terrorism and other crimes against humanity.