The National Interest Foundation Newsletter
Issue 206, September 15, 2023
Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s headlines: we examine the failure of the Oslo Accords 30 years after their signing, look into how the Moroccan governments refusal to accept aid from certain countries, lack of preparation, and rampant inequality contributed to the death toll, analyze the economic corridor between India, the Middle East, and Europe proposed by the United States at the recent G20 Summit, and investigate what is behind recent Druze protests in Syria.
Oslo After 30 Years
By Jacob Van Veldhuizen
The Oslo Accords have taken on many meanings since they were signed 30 years ago. Originally, it was a sign of hope and a chance for peace. Slowly, it has evolved into a tool for Israeli oppression. Oslo failed to achieve the immediate goal of laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive peace deal. In failing to do this, it also failed to achieve the long-term goal of creating a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
When the Oslo Accords were signed, hopes were high that it would lead to peace between Israel and Palestine. Even some of its detractors, who pointed out legitimate flaws in the process, had some hope that these accords would eventually lead to a more comprehensive peace deal.
There were multiple issues with the Oslo Accord. The most fundamental of these was the disconnect between the intentions of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. One of which is the failure of Israel to recognize Palestine as a legitimate state. The Palestinians entered the negotiation with the primary goal of being recognized as an independent state by Israel. Then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated that he was open to it, but would not be able to get it through the Knesset. What was happening on the ground painted a very different picture. Israel continued to expand its settlements and build new ones. Because of this, it is apparent that Israel never intended to recognize Palestinian statehood, rather, they saw an opportunity to pacify armed Palestinian resistance. They did this in multiple ways, of which the most consequential was making it a condition of negotiations for the Palestinian Authority to denounce terrorism. This seems like a reasonable enough request. However, this engrained the idea that all armed resistance against Israeli occupation was terrorism. This option was now removed from the table.
Another issue was the failure to agree on fundamental issues. It is logical to make smaller agreements in order to build a foundation of trust. However, ignoring some of the core grievances can and did make the earlier negotiations inconsequential. Instead, they only offered to recognize the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The issues of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the ownership of Jerusalem also would have likely prevented a more comprehensive peace agreement. Solutions are available to these issues; it is a matter of each side negotiating in good faith to find a solution that they both find palatable.
Though there were issues with the accords themselves, there were also external factors. Outbreaks of violence greatly hampered negotiations. Both the Israeli army and Hamas launched attacks that stressed negotiations and limited the amount of trust that could be built between the two sides. The 1994 massacre of Palestinians at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs by the American-Israeli extremist Baruch Goldstein was the catalyst for much of this violence.
Originally, Oslo was supposed to lay the groundwork for more negotiations. Unfortunately, this interim agreement became a permanent reality. The current situation on the ground starkly contrasts with 30 years ago. The Oslo Accords did fail to complete its original goal, but many of the policies are still in use today, often to the detriment of the peace process. Israel still occupies Areas B and C. Under the agreement, Area A was to be completely controlled by Palestine, and Area B was to be governed by Palestine while Israel controlled security. Area C was entirely under Israeli. The agreement was to slowly withdraw from these areas and cede complete control to Palestine. This withdrawal was never completed. Even in Area A, constant raids by Israeli security undermine any perceived sovereignty. In practice, Israel still has control over the entirety of Palestine.
The political instability on both sides of this conflict also hampers any effort to revive negotiations. Israel finds itself under the control of a far-right, extremist government. This government is full of criminals and racist agitators like Itmar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. It continues to enable settler violence, destroy Palestinian homes, siphon resources out of Palestine, suppress Palestinian identity, and kill innocent civilians. Israel is also on the verge of a constitutional crisis as Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies work to dismantle the remaining checks on their power. The Palestinian side is not fairing much better in terms of stability. The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is quickly losing his popular mandate. His popularity continues to decline as the situation worsens in Palestine. There have also been accusations of corruption and collusion with the Israeli government. Abbas refuses to hold elections, further hurting his legitimacy at home and abroad. Gaza is still under a blockade that has destroyed its economy and led to increased poverty. It has also become increasingly dangerous in Palestine, as more and more Palestinians are being killed by Israeli security forces.
As it stands, there is very little chance for the revival of the peace process with the two governments in place. The Israeli government lacks the will, and the Palestinian government lacks the ability. Open negotiations have halted and there is little political will to begin them again. Israel’s expansion of settlements has made the 2-state solution impossible. The power dynamic has changed to such an extent (largely thanks to the unconditional military support of the United States) that even if negotiations were somehow set up, there would be little chance of success. There is still debate on which method would work the best. There are still many proponents of the 2-state solution, but as stated earlier, with the continued theft of Palestinian land, it is impossible to establish the borders needed for this to succeed. The 1 state solution is a promising option, but the current political climate in Israel does not allow for this.
The legacy of the Oslo Accords is that of failure, but the prospect of peace is not entirely lost. There are groups in both Israel and Palestine that continue to advocate for negotiations. The existence of the far-right government in Israel remains the biggest roadblock at this time. Peace cannot be achieved as long as Netanyahu and his allies are in power. This is not the only roadblock. Future negotiations must be in good faith. We must realize that peace is a necessity to ensure the future of both countries.
Earthquake in Morocco
By Colin Bailey
This past Friday, on the 8th of September, a magnitude 6.8 level earthquake hit Morocco, now recognized as the strongest earthquake to hit the region in over 50 years. As of the 12th of September, the death toll has amassed nearly 3,000 individuals, with another 10,000 individuals missing as rescue efforts enter their fourth day. Despite the scale of destruction, the Moroccan government has been slow to accept offers of foreign aid, having only accepted the aid from a select few nations.
The epicenter of the earthquake has been determined to have occurred in the Al Haouz province, 72 kilometers southwest of the city of Marrakech in the High Atlas Mountains, at approximately 11:11 p.m. local time. Due to the landslides and overall destruction of infrastructure, it has been challenging for rescuers to reach several rural and underdeveloped villages.
Earthquakes are not new to Morocco, located along the Azores-Gibraltar fault line along the Alboran Sea; earthquakes in Northern Morocco are not unusual. As such, Northern Morocco’s buildings must meet codes to withstand significant earthquakes. As the High Atlas Mountains are not prone to severe earthquakes, buildings were not constructed to meet similar standards, leaving Al Haouz largely ill-equipped for the crisis. Alongside this, there is immense inequality between the developed cities are the rural villages, having less access to healthcare and medicine due to government policies. One of Morocco’s most significant sources of income comes from the tourism and agricultural industries, both of which are localized in the fertile northern provinces, leaving the rest of the country neglected. This is the primary reason why Western Sahara has been pushing to be a sovereign nation for decades.
Wendy Bohon, an earthquake geologist from Maryland, has said, “If you don’t have earthquakes a lot, you don’t build to withstand them. So, the types of buildings in Morocco are not built to withstand strong shaking from the base. And so, they are very likely to collapse.” An estimated 95% of the deaths in this natural disaster are believed to have resulted from people being crushed by collapsing buildings. Further casualties were caused by the poor infrastructure. The roadways throughout the High Atlas Mountains are over 30 years old on average, with limited sources of electricity, all of which have crumbled in the earthquake.
Despite the region being unprepared for such a tragedy, the Moroccan government has been reluctant to accept foreign aid. In a statement Sunday by the Moroccan Interior Ministry, it was stated that search and rescue teams would only be accepted by Great Britain, Qatar, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates, which were dubbed “friendly countries.” Numerous countries, including Germany, Italy, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States, have not yet been approved by the Moroccan government to provide aid.
The reason for the limited acceptance of relief appears to be the Moroccan government’s prioritization of maintaining complete control over the rescue efforts. As it stands right now, the Moroccan government oversees all levels of project management regarding providing relief and is unwilling to give up any level of supervision. Another reason why Morocco is not accepting aid from certain countries, specifically France, is because of the horrors they endured under colonial rule. Morocco has denied French rescue groups access despite continued pressure. In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the refusal to receive aid, stating, “There is the possibility of supplying humanitarian aid directly. It is clearly up to his majesty the king and the Moroccan government, in a manner entirely befitting their sovereignty, to organize international aid.” France is not alone in expressing dismay over not being permitted access to Morocco, with Germany and Czechia making similar statements pressuring the urgency of a swift response. With the electric grid and roads destroyed, it is difficult for any assistance to reach the villages.
The decision to limit foreign aid is not without its defenders; Caroline Holt of the International Federation of the Red Cross agreed with Morocco, stating that the situation was “extremely complex.” Due to most of the destruction located high in the underdeveloped High Atlas Mountains, it is challenging for teams to reach these villages with roads destroyed and, in many instances, entirely blocked off because of landslides. In these situations, it does not matter how much extra equipment and rescuers you have if you still aren’t able to reach the victims. Moroccan officials have further claimed that they fear that many foreign groups would lead to discoordination and “would be counterproductive.”
While there are indeed risks with executing a project between a multitude of groups in a humanitarian crisis like the one Morocco is currently facing, the benefits of international cooperation outweigh the costs of management complications. The Turkish government met a similar concern in the wake of the destructive earthquake in February of this year. Within the first 24 hours of the disaster, over 30 countries worldwide sent humanitarian relief teams, saving hundreds of civilian lives. And within 72 hours, over 90 nations had contributed in sending relief in what has gone down as a historic feat of crisis relief efforts. For that aid to have worked as effectively as it had, Turkey and Syria had to allow foreign organizations to enter and operate within their country.
The decision to limit the amount of foreign aid in this humanitarian crisis is a choice that has undoubtedly cost the lives of several civilians who were unable to be reached in time. While the Moroccan government would lose direct control over certain aspects of management, a great deal of benefits would be felt by a larger workforce. Right now, local hospitals in Al Haouz are overcrowded, with many people being forced to wait outside for medical attention. This problem would be alleviated if more resources were available to foreign organizations.
By Brenna Haggerty
At the recent G20 Summit held in New Delhi, world leaders came together to announce the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, also known as IMEC. The corridor would be a rail and port system that connects India to Europe via the Middle East. The path would start in India, then through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, ending somewhere in Europe. The corridor has multiple objectives, including boosting trade, delivering energy and data, and improving connectivity.
President Biden said this deal presents an opportunity to bolster the economy in the Middle East and create a more stable region. Jon Finer, the U.S. deputy national security advisor, stated that the plan intends to help low and middle-income countries in the Middle East play a role in global commerce. He also remarked that this exemplifies Biden’s plan to have “far-reaching investments.” Additionally, as India’s economic power grows, this plan would connect them to the rest of the world, cutting trade time to Europe by forty percent and involving them in the global economy. Most of the claims are vague as more specific details about the plan have not been disclosed.
This deal comes at a crucial time as the economic group BRICS is growing in power and influence. Just recently the group expanded, and now the West is rushing to respond. It seems the West is trying to counter with a plan to present the United States as an alternative partner for developing countries so they remain relevant in the region. It is also an opportune moment for Biden to announce a diplomatic deal as he prepares for the 2024 presidential election. Having a large international project in the works is a good way to show voters that Biden has been active his last four years in office, encouraging his reelection. Before IMEC, Biden did not have any other large international agreements to show constituents.
IMEC is being asserted as a clear alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative designed to span the globe. Since its release in 2013, the West has struggled to find a strong alternative to the Belt and Road plan. Now, they are presenting IMEC as a new path forward for the region. The White House says that they are not trying to force countries to choose sides, but are instead presenting another appealing option. The statement from the White House was brief, lacking many key details, but it enforced their new commitment to the route. IMEC also plays a role in the United States’ ongoing diplomatic mission to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia; this plan would give them a direct trade route to share goods and information. This deal could be a way to convince Saudi Arabia that there is a real benefit to normalization with Israel, where before there was little incentive.
For the United States, IMEC is also an opportunity to combat China’s growing influence. While fear of a growing China has existed since the 1990s, the threat has grown exponentially in recent years. Most Americans believe combatting China is a top priority. Despite Biden’s comments otherwise, it seems that the United States is trying to quarantine China and systematically deplete its influence. The United States has lacked a cohesive grand strategy since the Cold War. With continual attempts to build stronger ties in Asia and the Middle East, it seems Washington is reverting to a strategy of containment towards China. This time, however, containing China is less about halting the spread of communism, and more about maintaining economic dominance.
India holds a unique position in this deal because they are also a member of BRICS. President Biden has been courting Modi since he was elected, strengthening relations with India to combat China. IMEC is another step forward in this strategy. It appears that Modi is trying to use this position to his advantage. Playing both sides allows them to reap all the benefits, including cheap oil from Russia, and investments and arms from the United States.
In reality, IMEC is wishful thinking. No real plans have detailed the logistics of the deal, and it could take years to finalize. The geopolitical instability in the region also threatens the plan. Constant conflict in the Middle East will make it difficult to complete the construction and implementation of the corridor. Further, IMEC relies on multiple nations agreeing on the same goal, which has been relatively impossible as of late. Turkey, for example, has already objected to the project, asserting their own Development Road Project. They believe there is “no corridor without Turkey.” The projected price alone will hamper this project. The economic commitment from all involved parties will be high, coming at a time when spending money on foreign affairs is unpopular. While the idea of IMEC seems appealing, it is not a realistic proposal.
Druze Protests in Syria
By Loretta Wolchko
“We want to topple you … even if planes shower Al-Suwayda province with gold from the sky,” says a Syrian man as his fellow protesters shout behind him in opposition to their government. In southern Syria lies the province of Al-Suwayda, where protests against President Bashar Al-Assad have entered their fourth week. The province of Sweida is mainly populated by the minority Druze ethnoreligious group, which makes up roughly three percent of the total Syrian population. Protests erupted in August in response to a spike in gasoline prices and the overall cost of living. The momentum has yet to cease, but the cause the protesters are championing has shifted: in a rather unprecedented turn of events, the Druze people are demanding the total removal of Assad from power. Such an outburst has the potential for the conflict in Syria. There are multiple ways Assad’s government might respond.
Although protests have taken place in the province since the onset of the conflict, few (if any) have come close to mirroring the breadth of the ongoing dissent. Roughly two thousand Syrians in the center square of Sweida City gathered in a demonstration against Assad and his regime. Banners featuring his likeness were torn apart as the people chanted various anti-government slogans, wishing for his fall from power and literally exclaiming “We don’t want you.” The living conditions in Syria have been lamentable since the onset of the conflict, exacerbated by Assad’s economic failings as of late which has prompted the recent anti-Assad movement. The people are also calling for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which was adopted in 2015 and gives a guideline for peaceful political transition in the country. No legislation has been passed or even discussed since its adoption.
The anti-Assad sentiments in Sweida have spread to the nearby governorate of Dara’a. In contrast to the Druze in Sweida waving their own flag, protestors in Dara’a raised the flag of the opposition – the three-starred banner used by protesters at the onset of the conflict in 2011. Even though the two provinces are waving separate flags, the message is the same: the people want political change and a new era for Syria.
Throughout the conflict that has now spanned over a decade, the Druze sect has mainly remained neutral. This has undoubtedly protected the Druze from military force or suppression that other provinces under government control have experienced. In fact, an Alawite man living along the coast of the nation began protesting upon hearing about the movement in the southern province and began to make his way to Sweida for protection because it is known that the region is protected under Assad’s minority protection policy. He was arrested on his journey before he could get to Sweida. Assad’s policy has also granted the province semi-autonomy, a rare phenomenon in twenty-first-century Syria. They have worked to maintain a balance of impartiality for their own safety while intermittently speaking out in support of democracy and a unified Syria. It should be noted, though, that the flags the Druze are waving are that of their sect, not the flag of the opposition. Direct support for the opposition has not been announced, implying that this is not necessarily in tandem with the opposition. Despite this, protestors on the ground, women in particular, are hoping for the fall of Assad and one Syria. This protest is still a momentous event in the history of the conflict.
One of the only exceptions to the policy of Assad to refrain from force against the Druze was the assassination of Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, a prominent leader of the sect, in 2015. His murder sparked protests, but not near the scale of what can be seen in Sweida now. The anniversary of his death was just last week, propelling the unrest of the Druze.
This level of outrage from the sect could signify a turning point in the nature of the conflict in Syria. A historically neutral group taking to the streets for weeks on end is a development that Assad likely did not see coming. According to experts actively reporting on the conflict, this development is likely troubling to the Assad regime. If no action is taken or statement is made from the government, it may embolden the Druze further in their vocal dissent. It has already given Syrians in government strongholds the strength and motivation they needed to begin voicing their own dissent toward the regime. For the first time in years, some Syrians say, they have hope.
It is possible that Assad could also shift his strategies. For the duration of the conflict, the president has refrained from using violence against minority groups, the Druze being a prominent example of those who have thus far escaped some of the atrocities of the war. The magnitude of the protests in Sweida may convince Assad to assert his military power over the adamant Druze protesters. This could put a firm halt to any present or future defiance from the Druze and other neutral sects and force these historically neutral groups into submission. There is also the risk of Assad making an example of the Druze and simply wiping them out. It would not be out of character for the tyrant.
Contrarily, it is theorized by experts on the conflict that such strong pushback from Assad could risk driving the Druze away from their neutrality entirely, creating another “enemy” and consequently growing the opposition. Sweida has already been called an incubator of further protests and anti-regime sentiment, so it is possible the momentum will spur greater anti-Assad movements.
Regardless of whichever path Assad takes in his response (or lack thereof), it is possible that parties traditionally neutral of loyal to Assad may be shifting towards dissent. It still remains unlikely at this time that Assad will finally concede and implement Resolution 2254, but not impossible. It will likely still be some time before Assad is removed from power, if it happens at all. Whatever the outcome, it will certainly be an important event in the timeline of the civil war.