Commentary

Publicizing the Plight of Journalists

AMSTERDAM – Every five days, on average, somewhere in the world, a journalist is murdered for being a journalist. Nine out of ten times, no one is prosecuted, creating an atmosphere of impunity that extends beyond death threats or violence. Imprisonment of journalists is at an all-time high, and members of the press routinely suffer harassment and intimidation while on assignment. Today, journalism is one of the most dangerous professions anywhere.


One way to address this state of affairs is by talking about it. Three recent examples highlight the risks journalists take to report the news, and underscore why publicizing their plight is the only way to bring about change.

Consider Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler.com, an online news network based in the Philippines. Since founding Rappler in 2012, Ressa’s website has become an invaluable source of information about the extrajudicial killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” For her enterprising reporting, Ressa has received more than 80 death threats in the last month alone. Many of these warnings have come from anonymous bloggers, with IP addresses traceable to the president’s associates.

Then there is the case of William Ntege, a journalist who reported on recent protests against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to run in the next presidential election, despite constitutional prohibitions preventing him from doing so. Ntege was severely beaten by police for his coverage, and held in jail for more than ten days.

Finally, there is the erosion of press freedoms in Myanmar. A new clause written into the country’s media law allows citizens to file a lawsuit if they have a complaint with an article or news item, even if the reporting does not directly mention them. This legal provision – in sharp contrast to international norms – has led to 61 cases filed against journalists since February 2016, when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power.

Infringements of press freedom like these have become common tactics for autocratic regimes, from Turkey to Russia and beyond. But it is not only despots and strongmen who have declared war on the press. In Colombia and Mexico, hundreds of journalists have been placed under armed guard to protect them from criminal syndicates. Yet this hasn’t stopped journalists across Latin America from leaving the profession in droves. A favorite strategy of Mexican drug gangs seeking to stay out of the headlines is to threaten investigative journalists’ children. No wonder the media’s ranks are shrinking.

Part of the reason most consumers of news do not know these stories is that organizations like mine have long worked to ensure that journalists never become the story. Press freedom groups have typically operated under the assumption that the best way to protect fact-based, investigative journalism is to shield the storyteller from violence. And, like most journalists, we have opted to do our jobs quietly, rather than burdening readers and viewers with how dangerous the profession has become. But it is time to change our approach, and make a point of highlighting the hazards.

For example, Ntege was released only after considerable effort by a team of lawyers retained by Reporters Respond, the Free Press Unlimited emergency fund for journalist safety. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, it has helped dozens of journalists around the world, including, most recently, a group of reporters fleeing mob violence in Burundi. And a huge number of organizations aid journalists in distress in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. These stories behind the news must be told.

Of course, telling these tales is just the beginning. Press freedom advocates must also deliver journalists a stronger, more coordinated framework for their protection and safety. To that end, my organization is engaging with other global entities to strengthen the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. We have also begun holding regular meetings with other media freedom groups to devise a path forward. And, we have started working to ensure that media protections are backed up by legislation and enforcement. Journalists will need brave prosecutors and judges to hold attackers accountable if impunity is to end.

But the most important changes must come from within the media industry itself. Because journalists’ safety directly affects news organizations’ employees, freelancers, and audiences, these organizations should report on the topic. With attacks on the press increasing, the old approach – prideful silence – no longer makes sense. If the journalists use their platforms to inform the world of the dangers they and their colleagues face, the world will have to listen.

Violence against journalists has historically been an issue that has remained behind the headlines. On November 2, as the world recognizes the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, let’s commit to making these stories front-page news.

Leon Willems is Director of Free Press Unlimited.

By Leon Willems

Planning Better Cities

NAIROBI AND DUBAI – Cities, the American-Canadian author Jane Jacobs once observed, are engines for national prosperity and economic growth. But in their current form, modern cities are also catalysts of inequality and environmental degradation. Today, the share of city dwellers in poverty is growing; 33% live in slums; and 75% of global carbon dioxide emissions originate in metropolitan areas. Statistics like these should give us pause: Are cities really the best way to organize human life?


They can be, but only with significant adjustments to how they are planned, built, and managed. For city-led growth to empower a sustainable, prosperous future, governments and developers must reintroduce a user-centered approach to urbanization.

Today, most cities fail to include key stakeholders in the planning process, leading to exclusionary development. Consider the ubiquitous housing project on the edge of town, a characteristic of many poorly planned cities. Built in the middle of nowhere, these multi-unit eyesores are often cut off from public transportation and other services, compounding residents’ isolation from the urban core.

But design flaws like these, which have both economic and social implications, are just the beginning. Even more worrying to urban planning professionals like us is that in many places, the entire planning process – the way we think about cities, how they are used, and by whom – is flawed.

Even the world’s best-intentioned planning departments do not always put the public first. Part of this reflects uncertainty about who “owns” a city. Residents might call a city “theirs,” but government leaders often act in ways that suggest otherwise. For example, a government seeking to attract investment might equate economic interests with residents’ needs, and thus lower environmental standards or tax burdens for businesses. Such decisions might, however, lead to deurbanization, with people leaving cities as they become less livable.

The gap between economic viability and environmental responsibility can be especially wide. Consider the production of traditional, gasoline-powered cars. Although this type of industry might power some cities’ growth today, the public’s growing concern about CO2 emissions from these vehicles is spurring changes in consumer demand. Businesses that can capitalize on such shifts will be better positioned for long-term growth.

Unfortunately, for-profit entities typically fail to see future generations as tomorrow’s customers. Their short-term vision not only hurts their bottom line; it also affects cities, by trading immediate gain for quality of life.

So, what can be done to ensure that urban planning is conducted with the interests of cities’ actual users – particularly their residents – in mind?

Most cities lack a democratic planning process, and in many large metropolitan areas, inequality is sewn into the social fabric. So institutionalizing participatory planning must be the starting point. Programs that safeguard local democracy by encouraging transparency and accountability are critical. Residents who are equipped with the knowledge and means to express their views on issues affecting their communities make better neighbors. And planning discussions that take their views into account produce better design. Because leaders everywhere, under any type of political system, are judged by the livability of the places they oversee, an inclusive planning process should be every city’s goal.

With participatory planning as a starting point, governments and residents can move toward building cities that are more strategically linked to their surrounding regions and areas beyond. This type of growth is not only about transportation links, but also about coordinating policies and actions across sectors, including housing, social services, and banking. In this way, regional roles and responsibilities become more clearly defined, with finite resources allocated strategically, equitably, and according to a common agenda.

Too often, cities manage resources in bureaucratic silos, which can increase competition among precisely those who must work in concert if the urban areas they regulate are to invest wisely and implement policies effectively. Local autonomy can be achieved only through strong regional cooperation and coordination.

Urban sprawl is a good example of why a regional approach to planning is critical. Limiting sprawl requires a coordinated territorial strategy, so that cities can address common concerns, like the transportation of goods, clustering of housing and services, and management and placement of industrial corridors. Inter-municipal cooperation can also achieve economies of scale by discouraging unnecessary competition.

Many urban areas are being designed as “cities for the rich,” rather than population centers for all. This is gradually encouraging social segregation and threatening the security and safety of residents. Planning buzzwords like “smart cities” and “sustainable urban development” mean little if the theories behind them benefit only a few.

As Jacobs predicted, the “city” will remain the world’s engine of economic growth and prosperity for many decades to come. But if that engine is to run most efficiently, the mechanism powering it – the urban planning process itself – will need a tune-up.

Christine Auclair is project leader of the World Urban Campaign at the United Nation Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). Mahmoud Al Burai is CEO of the Dubai Real Estate Institute, an arm of the Dubai government.

By Christine Auclair and Mahmoud Al Burai

Dealing with Damaging Institutional Inertia

LONDON – Deeply rooted, credible, accountable, and effective institutions have long been deemed crucial for a society’s lasting wellbeing and prosperity. They shield countries from frequent and unsettling volatility, be it economic, political, or social, and they reduce the risk of costly shocks. But, nowadays, key political and economic institutions are being pressured by unusual fluidity in their operating environments and the effects of a cumulative loss of trust on the part of their constituencies.


The implications vary, with a much higher probability of adaptation, including through a relatively orderly process of creative destruction and re-creation, for private entities compared to public ones. The latter require an intensification of reform efforts, lest they constitute another obstacle to the global economy’s ability to deliver high and inclusive growth on a lasting basis.

Like a well-designed, well-functioning road network, strong institutions empower economies by ensuring a stable operating environment, smoother transmission mechanisms, less costly and less risky economic interactions, a credible set of property rights, and respect for the rule of law. They act not only as enablers of a wide range of win-win relationships, but also as trusted gatekeepers. Accordingly, for decades such institutions were widely viewed as the main feature differentiating advanced economies from developing countries that are still subject to a much larger array of damaging cyclical and structural shocks.

In recent years, however, this characterization has been challenged, as the standing of private and public institutions with significant systemic influence has declined.

For an expanding set of private firms, the main source of pressure has been technological, particularly those advances underpinned by the increasingly powerful mix of artificial intelligence, big data, and mobility. The challenge has proven particularly severe, if not fatal, for those facing intense competition from entrants able to combine disruptive content and big platforms – the most notable examples being Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Uber. As illustrated by the increased regulatory interest they are now attracting, as well as the increased media attention devoted to various controversies (such as those relating to “fake news” and internal corporate cultures), these companies must adapt and remain agile as they gain greater systemic influence and notice.

The adjustment process is even trickier for public institutions, especially given their wide-ranging roles as gatekeepers, enablers, and regulators. Often embodying the properties of “natural monopolies,” they are not only shielded from disruption but can also repress and delay beneficial innovations. Internal inertia, incomplete information, risk aversion, and conscious and unconscious biases combine to impede recognition of the urgency and importance of adaptation. Even more benign shortcomings – such as slowness in modernizing laws to catch up to changing realities – detract from economic wellbeing.

The visible and persistent failure of education systems to adopt exciting technological breakthroughs is a well-known example of this inertia. Less obvious is the lag among economic institutions in updating policy approaches, including through faster incorporation of important insights and tools from behavioral science, AI, neuroscience, and other disciplines. Then there are the persistent slippages in skill acquisition programs.

As a result, there has been a notable erosion of trust in the effectiveness of public institutions. And the damage to their credibility risks further undermining their effectiveness and perpetuating a vicious circle set in motion by their failure to generate high and inclusive growth.

Our understanding of how public institutions should adapt and reform is still evolving. As such, a complete solution is yet to emerge. But a few imperatives are already clear.

• Limit harm, including by resisting the natural inclination to promulgate increasingly ineffective, albeit established approaches, entities, and mindsets.

• Be much more open to the lessons that can be learned from external disruptors, and be willing to revisit the underpinnings of processes and entire business models.

• Enhance public-private interactions, not just for direct content, but also as a way to broaden the scope for greater cross-fertilization of best practices.

• Improve methods of public communications, lest continued information failures, aging channels, and the cumulative erosion of trust compound operational shortcomings.

Up to now, too many inherently influential institutions have lagged in identifying and implementing reforms. This has amplified the disappointment, alienation, and marginalization felt by segments of the population vis-à-vis governments that do not hear or respond to a deeply entrenched fear of economic insecurity. It is a phenomenon that has been many years in the making, that cannot be eliminated overnight, and that increasingly fuels social and political disruptions.

Institutions matter, especially in a period of economic, political, and social fluidity. The longer it takes to restore confidence in key public and, to a lesser extent, private institutions, the greater the impediments to our wellbeing and that of our children.

Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz, was Chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council and is the author of The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse.

By Mohamed A. El-Erian

The Transformative Power of Africa’s Youth

TORONTO – A few years ago, during a conversation with young people from some of Senegal’s poorest communities, a pair of social entrepreneurs told me about projects they were working on to help their peers succeed. One young man said he planned to put more computers into primary schools; another had set up a network to connect rural job seekers in the urban tumult of Dakar, Senegal’s capital.


After they finished sharing their plans, I congratulated them, and said that their parents must be very proud. But instead of accepting the compliment, they demurred. “My parents are against what I’m doing,” they said, almost in unison, before explaining that young people face family pressure to get a government job or use their English skills to work as a tour guide – not to become a risk-taking entrepreneur.

For ambitious young Africans, there are many obstacles to success. The journey to a job – whether formal or informal, entrepreneurial or traditional – is often a solitary one. Many young people lack access to skills training or even a favorable social environment to try something new. As I was reminded that day in Senegal, helping young people find gainful employment is the most important thing that the international community can do to help Africa develop.

Africa is home to the world’s largest population of young people. In about 25 years, those young people will be part of the biggest workforce in the world, with more than 1.1 billion people of working age. By some forecasts, 11 million people will enter Africa’s labor market each year for the next decade, most of whom will be first-time job seekers.

If African countries boost job growth and equip young people with employable skills, this youth bulge can deliver rapid, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth to the continent. In turn, millions would have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.

But Africa cannot achieve this future alone. At the Mastercard Foundation, we believe that, if Africa is to reach its potential, gaps in two keys areas must be closed.

The first area is access to financial products and services. According to the World Bank, some two billion people around the world currently lack such access. In Sub-Saharan Africa, just 34% of adults have a bank account, making it difficult for people to put money aside for unplanned events, like a bad harvest, or to save for school. This must change, with Africans gaining not only better access to banking systems, but also improved financial literacy.

The second key challenge that must be addressed is exclusion from secondary and higher education. While progress has been made in some regions, only about one-third of Africa’s young people graduate from high school. Girls are particularly disadvantaged; according to UNESCO, in Sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated nine million girls under the age of 11 have never been to school, compared to six million boys.

To address these issues, the Mastercard Foundation has established partnerships with local organizations to design education and financial-literacy programs aimed at helping young people find and keep jobs. By building a better-trained workforce, the Foundation’s programs are helping to empower the next generation of Africa’s community members and leaders, so that they can help their families, communities, and countries achieve a brighter and more prosperous future.

Already, a new generation of educated and ethical entrepreneurs, like those I met in Senegal, is emerging across Africa, demonstrating a profound commitment to building a stronger Africa. For example, when I ask young people participating in our Scholars Program what they plan to do with their new skills, they almost always reply that after getting a job, they plan to help somebody else, by returning to their secondary schools to serve as mentors to younger students.

Some of our program’s graduates have even established community projects in their villages to address HIV/AIDS or to build shelters for orphans and young children. Every one of these bright young Africans – examples of what the Mastercard Foundation calls “transformative leadership” in action – has the potential to drive change in their own countries and communities.

Those of us working in the field of international development can help level the playing field even more, by giving young Africans from all backgrounds an opportunity to lead in transformative ways. If we succeed, Africa’s dreamers of today will be the catalysts of positive change tomorrow. Reeta Roy is President and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation.

By Reeta Roy

A Chinese Model for Foreign Aid

SINGAPORE – Last month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a status report tracking progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The data, which were meant to highlight efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce premature deaths, was also intended to cajole. Countries can, and must, do more to address the global development challenges that the planet collectively faces, the report concluded.


No country was singled out in the Gates report for its potential to restore the “world’s commitment to development.” Rather, “leaders everywhere” bear responsibility for ensuring that the SDGs are met by 2030. But we believe there is one country that can do more than others to build the world envisaged by the SDGs: China.

Two years into the SDG program, international development is at a crossroads. The United States, long the torchbearer of foreign aid, is retreating; so is Europe (albeit to a lesser extent). But China, with its newly articulated global ambitions, has an opportunity to reinvigorate the conception and delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the SDGs outline a vision for global development that targets poverty, education, public health, inequality, sustainability, and climate action over the next 15 years. It presents a broad vision for development, whereby issues once viewed as country-specific are treated as challenges for the entire world to tackle collectively. By contrast, the Millennium Development Goals, which ended in 2015, were more narrowly focused, and primarily targeted at issues affecting poor countries.

But the Gates’ study suggests that some of the SDG targets are already in jeopardy. For example, the health goal (SDG 3), which includes a target for eliminating preventable deaths among newborns and children, is unlikely to be achieved in the allotted timeframe. At the current pace, mortality reduction in South Asia and Africa will not be realized until mid-century.

Clearly, more investment is needed globally in the types of interventions that have proven effective locally. Ethiopia’s Health Extension Worker program and Malawi’s Health Surveillance Assistant program have been proven to reduce child mortality. Aid dollars should be earmarked to help programs like these expand to other regions.

Instead, the opposite is happening. The growing isolationism associated with the populist backlash around the world is having severe consequences for foreign assistance. According to the OECD, bilateral aid to the world’s least-developed countries fell by nearly 4% in 2016. This is an alarming drop for these countries, given that official development assistance (ODA) accounts for more than two thirds of the aid they receive.

The US, which remains the world’s largest donor for nutrition programs and for maternal and child health initiatives, is leading the funding retreat. President Donald Trump’s 2017 budget proposal includes a staggering 45% cut to funding by the US Agency for International Development for water and sanitation projects, a 26% cut to global health funding, and the elimination of funds for family planning. While it is not clear whether Congress will support Trump’s budget request, which would amount to billions of dollars in lost aid, even a minor reduction in US aid spending would hurt many of the world’s poorest.

The US is not alone in its foreign aid retrenchment. The European Union’s 2018 draft budget proposes a €90 million ($106 million) cut to development spending, while Austria, Germany, and Italy have all diverted development assistance budgets towards migration crises viewed as imminent national security threats. These are troubling trends, because private philanthropy cannot replace aid withdrawn by governments.

The world needs a new champion for international development, and China should assume the role. With weakening ODA commitments from traditional donors, China has a chance to lead in human development, poverty alleviation, and public health spending.

It is true that China’s aid model differs from the West’s. Europe and the US have historically focused on funding health care and education initiatives, while encouraging civil-society growth and participation. China, on the other hand, grants aid on a bilateral basis, and has typically targeted its funding toward infrastructure projects. But Chinese leaders have also recently shown interest in aid to strengthen civil society and improve livelihoods.

Although Chinese ODA is still a fraction of what OECD countries spend, China has signaled its interest in becoming a development leader, especially in the health sector. At the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York, China pledged $2 billion to help implement the SDG agenda, and China’s flagship “Belt and Road Initiative” includes health cooperation as part of its proposed strategy. In 2014, China also committed $47 million to help contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. While that was significantly lower than the US pledge of $1.8 billion, China was among the fastest to deliver on its commitment.

China’s geopolitical and economic influence is growing, and so, too, must its role in promoting international peace and development. Skepticism about China’s development intentions will no doubt emerge, given China’s political and ideological differences with the West. But the skepticism could yield positive results, especially if it prompts Western powers to reevaluate their foreign aid retreat.

Even if it does not, China has the tools to become a leader in international development. And, having lifted some 470 million of its own citizens out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2005, it also has the experience. But, more than anything, China now has the political opportunity. As the US and Europe turn inward, ensuring the SDGs’ success will increasingly depend on encouraging – and becoming accustomed to – Chinese leadership.

Asit K. Biswas is a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Kris Hartley is a lecturer in public policy at the University of Melbourne and a non-resident fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

By Asit K. Biswas and Kris Hartley

Liberia’s Ambitious Education Policy

Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest school enrollment in the world. Yet even in this context, Liberia’s education indicators are shocking: Less than half of 15- to 24-year-olds are literate, less than half of young children attend primary school, and about a third of children who start primary school do not finish.

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The Psychology of Superstar Sex Predators

LONDON – The Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal shows no sign of winding down. Just the opposite: police in the United Kingdom are now investigating several allegations involving the Oscar-winning film producer. While Weinstein has “unequivocally denied” allegations of non-consensual sex, and no arrests have been made, more than two dozen women – including the actors Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rose McGowan – have publicly accused him of harassment. The allegations stretch over nearly three decades.


Hollywood is struggling to explain how one of its most visible figures could have gotten away with such behavior for so long. Woody Allen offered an important clue. Despite working with Weinstein on several films, he claims that no one ever brought allegations of abuse to his attention. “And they wouldn’t, because you are not interested in it,” Allen told the BBC. “You are interested in making your movie.” Others who worked with Weinstein over the years have made similar statements.

Is this the Hollywood equivalent of a police officer’s “blue wall of silence,” or is there something more clinical at work?

One possible answer may be found in the results of recent psychological research. According to scientists in the United States and Israel, there are certain personality traits – the “dark triad” of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism – that are more commonly associated with sexually abusive behavior.

One intriguing finding from this research, published in 2016 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is that personality traits associated with a proclivity for harassment may be “specialized psychological adaptations” that allow individuals to exploit “niches” in society. In other words, some sexual predators may seek careers in particular industries that allow them to exploit others.

The researchers also found that the disposition that makes someone successful may also comprise the personality traits that explain their tendency to exploit. The traits needed to win Academy Awards, for example, may be similar to the traits of an individual who pursues a large number of sexual partners and relationships requiring little commitment.

Taken a step further, the research suggests that we should not be surprised to find a similar parallel in many others corners of society. It is not just in Hollywood where the traits that make someone a star could make the same person an abuser.

The “dark triad” study was published long before the allegations against Weinstein came to light, but it remains the most comprehensive investigation into the personalities of sexual harassers. The researchers – based at Oakland University and the University of Georgia in the US, and Sapir Academic College in Israel – surveyed more than 2,500 Israeli men and women. Subjects prone to exploiting others demonstrated a number of characteristics, including callousness, disagreeableness, deceitfulness, egocentrism, lack of honesty or humility, and an excessive interest in one’s personal talents and goals.

This last trait – also known as narcissism – is a key component of the dark triad. Narcissists tend to be convinced of their own magnificence, and believe that other people should be flattered to be in their company – even if that involves unwanted sexual advances.

Machiavellians, meanwhile, believe that the best way to interact with others is to tell them what they want to hear. Their manipulative default can lead to a pattern of continually deceiving colleagues and friends, which may explain why a Machiavellian personality would engage in sexual harassment or pursue short-term sexual encounters. They simply believe they are too cunning to get caught.

When abusers are unmasked, they often seek to deflect blame. Claiming to be suffering from a disorder such as “sexual addiction,” or checking into a rehabilitation clinic for “treatment,” as Weinstein has reportedly done, fits with a classic Machiavellian response.

If the allegations pan out, Weinstein would be an extreme example of a “dark triad” abuser. But this combination of character traits is not all that rare. In fact, powerful predators might be lurking around the nearest water cooler right now. According to a 1994 survey of federal employees in the US, cited in the “dark triad” study, 44% of female workers, and 19% of male workers, reported being sexually harassed on the job within the two previous years.

And, as the authors of the 2016 study remind us, sexual harassment is not always about trying to secure sex. Rather, psychological drives – including the need to boost one’s sense of self-esteem, attractiveness, or masculinity – may be driving predators’ abuse of power in dominating or degrading others.

What may be particularly relevant to the Weinstein case, whatever the outcome, is that Hollywood is itself a bubble of narcissistic power. Psychologists could argue that this feature explains the blindness some have demonstrated toward the alleged depraved behavior of one of their colleagues.

Sexual harassment is the immediate focus of the Weinstein case, as it should be, given the severity of the alleged crimes and the distress caused to the victims. But for psychologists seeking to understand the apparent nexus of success and abuse, Weinstein’s apparent downfall is just the tip of an analytic iceberg.

Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen are psychiatrists based in London, and co-authors of the forthcoming book The Streetwise Person’s Guide To Mental Health Care.

By Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

Will Palestinian Reconciliation Revive the Two-State Solution?

RAMALLAH – When representatives of the two major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, signed a new reconciliation agreement in Cairo on October 12, the focus was not on those actually doing the signing, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad and Deputy Head of the Hamas Politburo Saleh al-Arouri. Instead, all eyes were on the man standing behind them: Khaled Fawzy, the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate.


The ceremony, held at the intelligence agency’s headquarters, was orchestrated entirely by the Egyptians, who view the reconciliation as a stepping-stone to a much larger goal. As the agreement stated in its opening, it stemmed from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s “insistence” on ending the divisions among Palestinians, “with the aim of creating an independent state” along pre-1967 borders.

Egypt’s leadership in this process will raise the country’s standing in the Arab world, reinforcing its position as a regional heavyweight. Already, the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah has gone some way toward achieving that, while providing a badly needed morale boost for Sisi’s government.

The good news for Egypt is that the Palestinians have shown a renewed willingness not only to pursue reconciliation, but also to pursue a difficult negotiating process with Israel and its main strategic ally, the United States. This revival of Palestinian national politics largely reflects the recent shift in Hamas’ stance, which follows years of trials for the Sunni Islamist organization.

The troubles for Hamas began when it chose to back the wrong side in both Syria and Egypt. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime prevailed over the Hamas-supported Islamic rebels in Damascus, while the Hamas-backed Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, led by Mohamed Morsi, fell after a year. Then, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, causing Hamas to lose its Qatari and Iranian financial and political support.

With few friends and even fewer sponsors in the region, Hamas had little choice but to return to its fellow Palestinian. The group quickly and unconditionally accepted President Mahmoud Abbas’s three demands: to dissolve the Hamas-led administrative committee, to allow the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to resume its role in Gaza, and to allow presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Reconciliation among the Palestinians will certainly open the way for peace, not least because the new elections will deliver the needed legitimacy to those tasked with handling negotiations with Israel. But the real work – for Egypt and the Palestinians – lies ahead.

In order to achieve an independent Palestinian state along pre-1967 borders, both actors will need to work with both the US, under President Donald Trump, and Israel, under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. And, on this front, expectations are low.

Trump claims that he will deliver the “ultimate deal” to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. But Trump and Netanyahu, feeding each other’s hawkishness, both remain unwilling to accept what the rest of the world views as the basic premise of any good deal: a two-state solution. And the aging Abbas is unlikely to accept whatever bad deal the decidedly pro-Israel Trump administration offers.

Even that futile scenario might be optimistic, as it assumes that talks get off the ground – an impossible feat, if Israel continues its illegal construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Such activities are not just unjust; they are a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted nearly unanimously last year (the US, then led by Barack Obama, abstained). That resolution demanded “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” – activities that amount to a “flagrant violation under international law.”

Any agreement between Israelis and Palestinians will require deep concessions by both sides – concessions that leaders on both sides will need to convince their respective publics to accept. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, who has been tasked with settling the conflict, and the Trump administration’s chief negotiator on the issue, Jason Greenblatt, seem to understand this. Egypt certainly does, having made it clear that a divided Palestinian leadership without a public mandate, like the one to be delivered by new elections, will be unable to carry out serious negotiations or win popular support for any eventual agreement.

The question is whether the Israelis will be willing to make such concessions, allowing either a two-state solution or a system of genuine and credible power-sharing within a single state. If they aren’t, the recent Palestinian reconciliation, however positive, will not mark the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will merely be the start of a new chapter in the struggle for freedom for Palestinians.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former professor of journalism at Princeton University.

 

The US Cannot Go It Alone On Iran

NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump has announced what was long anticipated: that he will not certify that Iran is complying with the July 2015 “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) signed by the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iran. Nor will he certify that the suspension of sanctions undertaken by the US as part of the agreement is justified and in the vital national interest of the US.


To be clear, such certifications are not required by the JCPOA. Rather, they are required every 90 days by a law enacted by the US Congress soon after the accord was signed. It is also essential to underscore that Trump did not withdraw from the JCPOA itself. What he chose was a compromise: to make clear his disdain for the agreement without leaving it or reintroducing sanctions that were removed as part of it (a step that would be tantamount to US withdrawal).

What happens next is unclear. Congress has 60 days to reintroduce some or all of the suspended sanctions but is unlikely to do so. It might, however, introduce new sanctions tied to Iran’s behavior in Syria or elsewhere in the region. Consistent with this, Trump announced his intention to place extra sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

If the US were to impose new sanctions for any purpose at any time, it would likely find itself alone. The Europeans, China, and Russia are highly unlikely to join, not only because of financial self-interest, but also because Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. This is a point made by international inspectors operating under United Nations auspices, as well as by senior US officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

To argue, as some in America do, that Iran is not complying with the spirit of the JCPOA is meaningless: “spirit” is a phrase without legal standing. And while it is fair to argue that much of what Iran is doing in the region is a legitimate cause for concern, it is not grounds for reintroducing sanctions under the accord.

Renegotiating the JCPOA to extend the duration of several of its constraints, make inspections more intrusive, and expand its coverage to missiles is attractive in the abstract. But it is totally unworkable in practice, as Iran and most (or all) of the other signatories of the JCPOA would reject these demands. The threat to terminate US participation in the JCPOA if such changes are not made will thus prove either empty or self-defeating if carried out.

None of this is meant to argue that the JCPOA is a good agreement. Still, Trump’s decision not to certify was unwarranted and ill-advised. The agreement was the result of a collective effort. American unilateralism now could make forging a common front against Iran much more difficult in the future.

Trump’s move is also bad for US foreign policy. There must be a presumption of continuity if a great power is to be great. Unpredictability can provide a tactical advantage, but it is also a strategic liability.

Here there is an obvious link with North Korea. At some point, the US may determine that diplomacy has a role in managing the North Korean nuclear and missile challenges. But America’s ability to offer a credible diplomatic path will be seriously undermined if others judge that it cannot be trusted to stand by agreements.

There is also a more immediate problem: if the US sets in motion a dynamic that causes the JCPOA to unravel, and Iran resumes nuclear activities currently precluded by the accord, a crisis will erupt at a time when the US already has its hands full with North Korea.

Despite these considerations, it would also be a mistake to focus just on the US announcement and not also on Iranian behavior. In the short run, the world needs to contend with an Iran that is an imperial power, one that seeks to remake large swaths of the Middle East in its image. What is needed is a policy of containment of Iran across the region – including support for the Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria, as well as of other groups and countries that are pushing back against Iran.

In the longer run, the challenge is to deal with the JCPOA’s flaws, above all with its sunset provisions. The agreement “parked” the nuclear problem, rather than resolving it. Important provisions of the accord will expire in either eight or 13 years. At that time, inspections will not prevent Iran from putting in place many of the prerequisites of a nuclear weapons program that could be made operational with little warning.

It cannot be assumed, as some do, that Iran’s intentions and behavior will moderate over the next decade or 15 years. On the contrary, Iran is more likely to remain a hybrid regime in which a government coexists with a permanent religious authority and with powerful military forces and intelligence units that exercise considerable political influence and largely operate outside the government’s control.

Dealing with an ambitious and powerful Iran thus entails a broad range of other open-ended challenges that define the ever-turbulent Middle East. Without the JCPOA, however, those challenges would become even more daunting.

Richard N. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

By Richard N. Haass

A Roadmap to End Cholera

GENEVA – “Where is your toilet?” This is often the first question I ask when I visit the site of a cholera outbreak anywhere in the world. More often than not, the answer is: “We don’t have one. We go wherever we can.”


Cholera, an ancient disease, has become a disease of poverty. It does not discriminate geographically, but it preys mostly on vulnerable communities in areas with poor sanitation.

Carried by contaminated floodwaters to sources of drinking water, transported by unsuspecting travelers, or brought into homes on produce irrigated with untreated sewage, the Vibrio cholerae bacterium settles in the small intestine after it is ingested, causing severe diarrhea and dehydration.

Those who are fortunate enough never to have witnessed cholera’s effects firsthand might assume that it is just another stomach bug. But without swift medical attention, cholera can sap the life out of an adult or child in a matter of hours. Each year, cholera claims the lives of an estimated 95,000 people; many who die are children.

This year, images of listless, glassy-eyed cholera victims awaiting treatment have emerged in countries worldwide. The disease has spread at an unprecedented rate in Yemen, where more than 2,000 people have died since April. Cholera outbreaks are ongoing in Somalia, South Sudan, Haiti, and other countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

But the saddest fact about cholera’s recent toll on human lives is that every single death was preventable. The world already has the knowledge and tools to control cholera effectively, but existing resources are not being aligned with the necessary global commitments.

That is why the new global strategy developed by the Global Task Force on Cholera Control, a diverse network of technical partners, is so vital. Ending Cholera – A Global Roadmap to 2030 emphasizes a shift to proactive approaches, and aims to reduce cholera deaths by 90% over the next decade. With full implementation, the plan could also help as many as 20 countries eliminate disease transmission in the same timeframe. Based on three pillars – early detection, integrated prevention tactics, and coordination between countries and partners – the roadmap provides a concrete path for ending cholera as a public health threat.

Once cholera grips a community, it becomes increasingly difficult to control. It is important, therefore, that the disease is not forgotten even when it is not claiming victims. A multi-sector approach that includes investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene – so-called WASH services – can keep cholera at bay. So can the proactive use of oral cholera vaccines and quick access to treatments, such as oral rehydration solution and intravenous fluids.

Improving WASH infrastructure is the most effective path to prevention, though implementing these services will take time in countries with fewer resources. For this reason, the roadmap also encourages the preemptive and large-scale deployment of oral vaccines in cholera hotspots. The vaccines work immediately, and can prevent cholera for up to three years, serving as a bridge to the implementation of longer-term solutions.

Oral cholera vaccines are available via a global stockpile maintained by the World Health Organization, with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. More than 15 million doses have been distributed to 18 countries since the program’s creation in 2013. Next year, the stockpile is set to increase to more than 25 million doses, up from two million when it began.

Ending cholera as a health threat by 2030, as global partners and the WHO recently pledged, will require sustained collaboration and commitment from cholera-affected countries, technical partners, and international donors. The goal may seem daunting, given that millions of people around the world are at risk of contracting the disease each year. But with urbanization, climate change, and other factors likely to increase the threat of infection, it is a goal that must be met. The roadmap makes this possible.

Implementing the plan will prove to be a cost-effective solution for countries saddled with responding to frequent cholera outbreaks. That is one reason why action is urgently needed. But embracing the strategy is also the right thing to do for the international community. Governments have a moral obligation to ensure that no one succumbs to a preventable death. It is an obligation the WHO shares, and it is why we will work hard to help the world meet the ambitious targets we have set.

We have the tools needed to beat cholera. Now, with a plan in place, there can no longer be any excuse not to put them to use.

Dominique Legros, a medical doctor, is currently the Cholera Team lead at the World Health Organization.

By Dominique Legros

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