Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Four Scenes from a Region in Turmoil

Four scenes from Sunday’s news have captured the attention of the Arab reader. These scenes point to the magnitude of the problems facing the Middle East, some of which are turning into prolonged conflicts that are passed down from generation to generation.
The first scene is the emergency meeting of the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers held in Cairo to discuss US President Donald Trump’s decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin the process of transferring the US embassy to it.
After asking the United States to reverse its decision on Jerusalem, the Council affirmed that East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian State and that no security, stability and peace in the region could be achieved without establishing a free, independent and sovereign Palestine based on the lines of June 4, 1967, in accordance with relevant resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative.
One of the journalists asked Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit about the possibility of withdrawing the Arab Peace Initiative. He replied that if the Arabs tried to withdraw it, “they would be shooting themselves. There is no alternative.”
The truth is that putting an emphasis on the international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative would further bridge the gap with the countries that opposed any settlement to the fate of Jerusalem outside the framework of negotiations and adhered to international norms, rules and standards.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a long and ongoing one, and Trump’s position is a mere episode in this lengthy crisis. A position taken by a state, even a superpower, cannot change the nature of things and the course of events. The history of this conflict provides more than a proof of that.
Based on Arab, Islamic and international reactions, it is clear that there is a firm conviction among most of the countries of the world that this conflict cannot be resolved on the basis of the vulnerability of a party and by forcing it to recognize the status quo. Everything shows that the Israelis will not enjoy peace as long as the Palestinians are deprived of their rights.
The second scene was the official announcement made by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on “ISIS’ defeat” and “the end of the war”. The news is important for Iraq as well as for the region, because ISIS, with its cruelty, produced a series of disasters in a number of countries and peoples, and was responsible for the bloodshed and the birth of armies of widows and orphans.

Two statements included in Abadi’s speech on the occasion reflected the magnitude of the tasks that the Iraqi government must undertake.
The first statement is that “fighting corruption will be a natural extension” of the liberation process, while the second stresses the need to “restrict arms to the state and to implement and respect the rule of law as the bases for state-building.”
It is clear from both sentences that the challenge facing Iraq after its victory over ISIS is that of building a state of law.
Abadi, by virtue of his affiliation, official position and experience, knows that the war against “ISIS” and then the disciplinary measures taken in response to the Kurdish referendum, have underlined the urgent need to subject all military and security institutions to the rule of law.
Videos showing abuse by members of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” have revealed that the battle for building the Iraqi state would not be easy. Some of the Forces’ militias do not operate under the command of an Iraqi general, and assuming the role of “small mobile armies” fascinates them.
The third scene, though not publicly broadcast, is the news that Houthi militias buried the body of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in his hometown of Beit al-Ahmar in Sinhan, south of the capital, in the presence of a limited number of his relatives and leaders of his party.
The story is not simple. We are talking about a man who has been the backbone of Yemen’s political life for the past four decades. His party, the General People’s Congress, has a popular and tribal strength that surpasses by far that of the militia that killed him and buried him without shedding a tear.
It is a very dangerous precedent for a militia representing a minority and backed by a regional power to impose its authority on a country that seeks to change its position and its language despite its long-standing membership and roots.
The fourth scene is the appearance of the Secretary-General of the Iraqi “Asaib Ahl al-Haq” – a part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Qais al-Khazali. From an area in southern Lebanon and in military uniform, Khazali overlooked or forgot that he was not on Iraqi territories, but on the soil of another country, Lebanon, to which he was supposed to enter through legitimate gates and after receiving the permission of its authorities.
The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that it came at a time when Lebanon's “dissociation” policy has received international support through the conference held in Paris. It came at a time when the Lebanese were trying to convince themselves that the tent of “dissociation” – a trembling and ragged tent - might be able to withstand at least some time waiting for the parliamentary elections next year.
Al-Khazali’s appearance raised a clear question: Did the recent wars lead to the collapse of the international borders between Iraq and Syria and between Syria and Lebanon? Does roaming within this area no longer require a visa and official border crossings if the rover belongs to the “Popular Mobilization Forces”?
These are four scenes from a region whose children will not have a normal life unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ends in a comprehensive and just peace, and unless the state-building project is sought at the expense of hegemony, interventionism and the spread of militias.