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Visiting Israel Palestine is a sobering experience for a scholar of peace. The ubiquitous Wall of separation, the constant sense of insecurity and fear, knowing as we walk through Jerusalem’s Damascus gate for example that a number of fatal shootings and attacks have occurred there recently. The pervasive military presence in Israel, the 20-somethings in uniform carrying Uzis in train stations and malls, troops on duty in so many public places and check points.

Our sympathies naturally lie with the Palestinians, whose land has been stolen historically, with settlers encroaching ever more, their right to statehood denied, the West Bank under military occupation, their communities walled off and isolated, transportation disrupted, with drastically lower living standards and access to water and sanitation.

But I also sympathize with Israel, which has the right to exist, and to be safe from invasion by neighbors and terrorist attacks against civilians. Israel is a prosperous democratic country, but its success is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. It is tragic that a people who suffered so much from separation in the past should now feel compelled to impose it upon another.

The political situation seems hopeless and is getting worse. Several interlocutors predicted an explosion in the coming months. Hardliners are gaining ground in the Israeli government and Knesset. Hamas retains its grip in Gaza and belief in terrorist methods. It praised as ‘heroic’ the fatal shooting of civilians in a Tel Aviv restaurant this past week.

In this bleak setting it’s hard to have any hope or sense of a solution, but a few facts seem indisputable.

For the Palestinians there can be no military solution. The resort to violence and terrorism only makes matters worse. In the 1980s and during the first mostly nonviolent intifada there was some hope for improvement. Then came the second intifada and the killing of more than 800 Israeli civilians, leading to the Wall and increased militarization. No just cause is gained through the killing of innocent people in cafes.

Israel’s security is based on an unsustainable foundation of oppression. The occupation of the West Bank and the building of settlements in Palestinian territory is a violation of international law.  Israel can never be truly free and secure without justice for the Palestinians.

The core parties to the dispute—Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—remain light years apart in their positions and show no interest in negotiating a genuine settlement.  The Oslo framework has collapsed and a two-state solution seems ever more distant, made less relevant daily by Israeli facts on the ground and the re-engineered landscape of enclosed Palestinian ‘bantustans.’

In light of these facts, or so they seem to me, initiatives for change are needed from the outside. These could take several forms, all aimed at encouraging reconciliation. The US and EU could use their diplomacy, international aid, security assistance and other policy instruments to orient Israel away from occupation and settlements toward compliance with international law. They could also engage with the Palestinians to find achievable political solutions that assure their dignity and freedom as a people within the context of the same rights for Israelis.

Civil society must play a role. Especially important are the international solidarity programs that have been created by religious groups and NGOs to accompany and protect Palestinians at check points in Hebron and other sites of Israeli and settler abuse. These programs should be supported and expanded to bring into the West Bank and eventually Gaza the presence of ever growing numbers of international observers and peace builders from global civil society.

In the United States we bear a heavy burden. It is our government more than any other which sanctions, funds and arms Israeli crimes and thereby upholds the cruel separation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel is on a reckless path, and it needs tough love to come to its senses. The Palestinians too are in bad shape with corruption in Ramallah and militancy in Gaza. They also need our help.

For civil society our duty is to organize politically in support of a policy for Israel Palestine that helps the parties find a way of living together, two peoples in one land, free from violence, fear and oppression.

Hats off to Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, for his brilliant take down of David Samuels’ recent New York Times Magazine article and attack against the Iran nuclear deal.  Cirincione counters Samuels’ distortions about the negotiated agreement and shows the importance of defending it against those who would tear it up.

Samuels’ article is mostly about Ben Rhodes, the influential speech writer and communications guru in the National Security Council who has helped to shape President Obama’s thinking on foreign policy over the past seven years. Rhodes also played an important role in winning support for the Iran deal. When the official implementation process began earlier this year many of us hailed the agreement as a triumph of diplomacy over war.

Not Samuels. He portrays it as a White House propaganda coup engineered by Rhodes and a step toward U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. As Cirincione writes, the Samuels critique is “utter nonsense.”

So far the agreement has produced positive benefits. Iran has removed two-thirds of its uranium enrichment capacity, shipped almost all of its enriched uranium fuel out of the country, completely dismantled its plutonium production reactor, and accepted “an airtight inspection regime tougher than any ever negotiated.” In return the U.S. and the European Union have lifted nuclear-related sanctions. As long as the deal remains in force and implementation continues, Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon.

The expectation of this outcome is why hundreds of retired generals and admirals, former diplomats, nonproliferation experts, scientists and religious leaders endorsed the Iran deal. Several Israeli former military and intelligence leaders and former U.S. ambassadors to Israel also supported the agreement.

The Ploughshares Fund, the Iran Project, the National Iranian American Council, the Arms Control Association, the Win Without War coalition and many other progressive foreign policy groups in the U.S. mounted substantial educational and advocacy efforts in support of the agreement.

The debate generated by the Samuels article reminds us that in the policy world we must not only fight to achieve victories but also work to defend those victories against counterattack. Right wing political forces in Israel and the U.S. have not abandoned their opposition to the Iran deal. They are continuing to mobilize against it. The opponents of diplomacy want to turn back the clock toward a policy of greater confrontation with Iran.

Diplomacy worked in limiting Iran’s nuclear program. That important accomplishment needs to be understood and defended, so that diplomacy can be applied again in other settings as a viable alternative to war.

It was exactly one year ago that more than 800 of us met in Washington DC for the conference “Vietnam the Power of Protest.” Here is a link to the conference program.

It was an exhilarating and inspiring event that brought together some of the most important voices of the Vietnam antiwar movement (Tom Hayden, Cora Weiss, Julian Bond, Dan Ellsberg and many others). The program called attention to the important role of antiwar opposition in bringing the war to an end.

The conference last year marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. escalation of the war and also of the beginning of mass antiwar protest. Preceding the public conference was an academic program sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and New York University entitled “The Vietnam War Then and Now: Learning the Critical Lessons,” featuring a keynote address by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.

Many public commemorations of the Vietnam War have occurred and will continue in the years ahead. Most focus on honoring the soldiers who served in the military (I was one of them), but very few acknowledge or pay tribute to the massive social movement that arose against the war. Even fewer events mention that widespread antiwar protest also emerged among many of us who were in the military. That’s how I became interested in and committed to working for peace, as I wrote previously.

Now comes a Congressional Resolution to pay tribute to the antiwar movement, introduced last week in the House of Representatives by that always reliable defender of justice and peace (and speaker at the “Power of Protest” event) Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. It’s a marvelously succinct and powerful declaration that acknowledges our debt as a nation to the millions of people who took a stand for peace and worked to end an unjust war.

Take a look at the Resolution and urge your member of Congress to become a co-sponsor.

To the shores of Tripoli?

Pentagon officials are proposing air strikes and the use of special operations forces in Libya to counter the growing threat from ISIS. This potentially dangerous escalation of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is being decided without public debate or dialogue. Is it really a good idea to open a new front in the expanding war in the region?

U.S. military strikes have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya? Military strikes can destroy targets and kill fighters (along with civilians), but they cannot solve the underlying political problems and lack of accountable governance that are at the root of these conflicts.

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress Al-Qaida, but that organization morphed into the even more dangerous menace of ISIS. We fired the Iraqi army and sent some of its senior officers to prison, where they became radicalized by jihadists. Today many of the military leaders of the so-called Islamic State are former commanders of the Iraqi army.

Military involvement in the Middle East is the problem not the solution. As we have seen in other countries, American military intervention creates a rejection response that drives many people into the arms of the extremist groups.

As Scott Atran recently observed, an extreme reaction from the United States and other Western countries is exactly what the strategists of Al-Qaida and ISIS want. The more we become bogged down in the region, the happier they are. They want to cause chaos and ‘vexation’, forcing the West to become directly involved militarily.

External military intervention reinforces the false narrative of the extremists that the West is waging war on Islam. Bombs falling on another Arab country will be a bonanza for ISIS recruiters.

The U.S. has conducted 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq over the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed in a recent analysis that American bombing in Iraq and Syria has not achieved its strategic objectives. Pentagon officials claim that U.S. strikes killed 25,000 ISIS fighters last year. Yet military officials also acknowledge that the number of estimated ISIS fighters in the region today remains about the same as before. Bombing alone cannot stem the flow of extremist fighters.

Keep in mind that U.S. bombing strikes in 2011 created the chaos in Libya in the first place, causing the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime and the collapse of the Libyan state, spreading lawlessness and armed conflict across the Sahel.

Yes, we need to do more to stop the spread of ISIS, but U.S. bombing will create a backlash that could worsen the extremist threat. We need to act, but we also need to heed the warning: do no harm.

Rather than further stoking the flames of chaos, let’s focus instead on encouraging negotiations among Libya’s competing political factions. The only hope for a resolution to the crisis in Libya is political agreement among the local parties. U.S. intervention could shatter the thin hopes of forging a viable coalition government.

Now is an especially bad time for external military intervention as the Libyan factions have been engaged in internal political discussions and are taking tentative steps toward forming a unity government. Encouraging and supporting that political process should be our top priority.

A stable government in Libya would be more than capable of containing the threat from ISIS and could contribute to greater security in the region. Let’s focus on that task rather than the risky business of widening the war in the Middle East.

It was a landmark event last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency officially certified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The news received some press coverage, but it deserved much more.

Tehran has now exported 97% of its enriched uranium, disassembled 13,000 centrifuges (two thirds of its total), and poured concrete into the core of its former plutonium reactor. In return the US has lifted nuclear proliferation-related sanctions and returned frozen assets. Germany and other European states have done likewise and are already moving to renew investments.

Iran has dismantled its infrastructure in record time, at a faster pace than other cases of denuclearization. The experience with Iran stands in sharp contrast with the prolonged and confrontational disarmament process in Iraq after 1991. The disarmament approach with Iran has been much quicker, smoother and also more effective because it includes unprecedented inspection access.

Some of the most rigorous monitoring protocols ever established are now coming into place in Iran, all with the full consent and cooperation of Iranian authorities. It’s the most comprehensive nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated.

Now that’s something to celebrate. Let’s make “Implementation Day” an annual holiday as a tribute to effective diplomacy and peaceful nuclear nonproliferation.

Plan now for your local party on the date next January!

In the meantime, let’s keep vigilant and do what we can to ensure that the compliance process continues to run along smoothly.

Seventy five years ago this month Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his famous Four Freedoms speech at his third inauguration. His call for freedom of speech and religion with freedom from want and fear has carried through the decades and remains a guiding vision for how to create a better world.

c2447164937969a269b8274187aca9bfRoosevelt was articulating the goals of the world struggle then underway against Nazism and aggression. His words provided the foundation for the subsequent Atlantic Charter and many of the ideas that emerged in the UN Charter.

At the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Edwin Stettinius echoed Roosevelt’s ideas. “The battle for peace has to be fought on two fronts,” he said. “The first front is the security front, where victory spells freedom from fear. The second is the economic and social front, where victory means freedom from want. Only victory on both fronts can assure the world of an enduring peace.”

These ideas remain alive. Today government leaders and scholars understand and support economic development as an effective and essential means of avoiding conflict and creating conditions for peace. Goal 16 of the recently adopted UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies to help overcome poverty. Freedom from want is linked to freedom from fear.

The fourth is the least familiar of Roosevelt’s freedoms. He described it as a worldwide reduction of armaments to the point where no nation could threaten aggression against another. Today we recognize this as a call for progressive disarmament and common security.

This is the mission of the Fourth Freedom Forum, the organization I once directed and still serve as chair of the board of directors, a foundation that works to reduce nuclear dangers and develop nonmilitary means of countering terrorism and other security threats.

The tradition of the Four Freedoms carries on in many human rights, development, peacebuilding and disarmament organizations. All who support civil rights and religious freedom and promote development and peace are following in that rich heritage.

Thanks to FDR for pointing the way and helping us realize the essential interconnectedness of core human freedoms. Our task always is to follow that path.

The adoption last week of new UN sanctions on ISIL marks an important step forward in the international campaign to isolate, weaken and suppress the so-called Islamic State.

On Thursday the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2253, a landmark measure that consolidates and strengthens international sanctions against ISIL and gives greater strategic focus to the global fight against the threat.

The 28-page resolution is perhaps the longest sanctions resolution ever adopted. It includes 34 preambles, 99 operative paragraphs and two extensive technical appendices each with dozens of specifications for implementation. If length is a measure of political intention, this is a serious resolution.

With the passage of Resolution 2253 the Security Council has finally renamed its main counterterrorism sanctions committee the “ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.” Previously it was known as the Al-Qaida and Taliban Committee and then the Al-Qaida Committee. The name change is long overdue and means that the Committee can now concentrate on ISIL as the main international terrorist threat.

The resolution reiterates the obligation of all states to freeze the financial assets, prohibit entry or transit, and prevent the supply of arms or military equipment for all individuals and entities associated with ISIL.  It prohibits a wide range of specific forms of financial interaction with ISIL or its supporters and obligates all states to cooperate in implementing these restrictions. It calls for more vigorous compliance with Financial Action Task Force provisions against the financing of terrorism.

The resolution urges states to submit the names of individuals and entities to be targeted for sanctions and includes the usual provisions for listing and delisting those designated for UN sanctions. It also maintains and extends the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson, which receives and processes requests for delisting in the event of inadvertent listing.

The resolution directs the Sanctions Committee and its Monitoring Team (the most vigorous of the Security Council’s expert panels) to report on specific instances and general patterns of non-compliance, and to recommend corrective actions that the Council could take in response. It also authorizes the Committee to hire additional experts to focus on ISIL and to recommend capacity-building assistance for states that need help to enforce the sanctions.

The resolution requests the UN Secretary General to provide within 45 days an initial “strategic-level report that demonstrates and reflects the gravity” of the threat from ISIL and the range of Member States efforts to counter that threat, and to provide updates every four months thereafter. It calls for the Monitoring Team to cooperate with other UN counterterrorism bodies to submit recommendations for strengthening global enforcement of sanctions against ISIL.

The resolution breaks new ground in three respects.

It was jointly sponsored by the United States and Russia, indicating the ability of Washington and Moscow to work together on countering ISIL despite their many differences on other issues. This should give greater impetus to the global fight against the group.

It focuses Security Council counterterrorism sanctions on ISIL and provides additional mandates and resources for the Council’s Sanctions Committee and Monitoring Team to do a better job of identifying and correcting problems of noncompliance.

It calls on the Secretary General and UN counterterrorism bodies to provide greater strategic-level focus on the threat from ISIL and measures to counter it.

Progress in implementing the provisions of Resolution 2253 would go a long way toward reducing the global threat from ISIL and cutting off its vital sources of money and supply. The United States, Russia and other powers should continue working together through the Security Council to assure effective implementation of these measures and to generate steadily increasing pressures against ISIL.