Weekend Thinking: Israel, China and Russia

In case you missed this week’s important stories from the Middle East and beyond.

Israel

Jonathan Tepperman’s bold essay in The Atlantic argues that while Israel is in a position of strength, it should control its own destiny with the Palestinians.  Although bilateral negotiations have failed to achieve a political settlement, Israeli unilateral actions in the West Bank may be the only pragmatic solution, as a continuation of the status quo in the unpredictable climate of the Middle East coupled with demographic trends could have grave consequences for the sustainability of Israel’s national identity.

Tepperman is aware that unilateralism is unpopular in Israel:  withdrawing from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 was not complemented with peace and stability but with greater terror from Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively.

Unilateralism is not ideal nor would it yield a comprehensive peace, but the author rightly argues it may elevate Israel’s position, embolden both parties to resume negotiations leading to an agreement, improve Israel’s image in the West and in the Arab world, and undermine Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  That is, at least weaken Tehran’s motive of destroying the “Zionist regime” for the sake of the Palestinians.

China

China’s Uighur minority who live primarily in the northwestern province Xinjiang are banned from observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  According to a decree by Chinese authorities, “Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students” are forbidden to fast.

In July 2009, Chinese forces quelled a riot in Xinjiang after 200 died during ethnic tensions between Uighurs and the Han Chinese majority.  The main stream media has also overlooked the more than 40 cases of Tibetan self-immolations since 2009, consisting mainly of monks protesting Beijing’s harsh policies and demanding greater freedom.

This dangerous combination of authoritarianism and repression could lead to massive protests.

Russia

Another equally important issue neglected by the MSM is Russia’s ongoing military campaign against an Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus.  In 2003, the Chechen capital Grozny was described by the United Nations as the most devastated city on earth after two unsuccessful wars for independence against Russia.

Moscow continued waging low-level operations against Chechen militants until officially declaring success in April 2009.

However, Chechnya’s stability came only at the expense of personal liberties after Vladimir Putin personally selected Ramzan Kadyrov to serve as president.  Human Rights Watch described the leader of having a “grim record of abuse” and has helped Putin’s war by abducting, torturing and executing Islamist rebels.

Although Chechnya has been relatively quiet, it appears the violence has spilled over into neighboring republics Daghestan and Ingushetia.

The scholars Charles King and Rajan Menon brilliantly examine the complexities and paradoxes of Russia’s policy in the Caucasus and why genuine peace and stability remains elusive in the July/August 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs.

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