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Enforcing the Ceasefire May Be America’s Way Forward in Syria

Aug. 18 2017

Taking advantage of the July ceasefire agreement, which applies in certain areas of southern Syria, Bashar al-Assad and his allies have been consolidating and expanding their control in other parts of the country. What’s more, writes Dennis Ross, the Russians “have agreed to several previous ceasefires or cessations of hostilities and have enforced none of them,” suggesting that they, and forces loyal to Assad, might resume fighting elsewhere when it suits them. If, with Russian support, Iran-backed, pro-Assad groups expand their influence, they will no doubt threaten U.S. interests and even undermine attempts to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State. Ross explains how the U.S. might be able to limit Russia and Iran from further taking advantage of the situation:

The Israelis have made it clear they won’t let Iran open up a . . . front against them in Syria. Maybe this will deter the Iranians; at a minimum, they will test and probe to see just how serious the Israelis are. Unfortunately, they are far less likely to be deterred from trying to position themselves along the Jordanian border, convinced this will give them the means to destabilize the Hashemite kingdom and threaten the Gulf states from yet another direction. . . .

[T]he ceasefire agreement is supposed to keep the Syrian regime and the Iranians 40 kilometers from the Jordanian border. [This], however, depends on the Russians stopping the Syrians and Iranians. If the past is any guide, they won’t, unless, of course, they decide that this will extend the conflict and increase their costs.

The Trump administration could make it clear that there is a cost. If it were prepared to say the U.S. will enforce these ceasefire areas and buffer zones if the Russians don’t, Putin would pay attention. Not only would it signal that the U.S. was going to be an arbiter of events in Syria—something Putin seeks to avoid—but it would also mean we would act to punish the Syrian regime for its transgressions.

One of Putin’s objectives has been to show that the Russians stand by and protect their friends. He is not going to want to have to protect further Syrian efforts at expansion if it costs the Russians, and he is also likely to be leery of having the insurgency re-emerge after seemingly containing it. One way for the U.S. to punish the regime would be to resume lethal assistance to Syrian opposition groups. That may seem very unlikely after the Trump administration has ended such assistance, but if the Russians appear to be retreating from the ceasefire agreement, this could be an option for the administration.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Jordan, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA