Yes, the Taliban has terrorists in its government (but that’s not unusual)

The Taliban announced the makeup of an interim government the other day, and what should have been to no-one’s surprise, it is made up of figures notable for their close ties to the movement’s late founder, holdovers from the last time the Taliban held power, and a host of hardliners who made their reputations during the last 20 years of insurgency.

In that mix are terrorists.

For example, Sirajuddin Haqqani is the new interim interior minister. He is the head of the Haqqani network (a US-designated terrorist organization), which has been carrying out brutal terrorist attacks across Afghanistan for the last two decades, including a 2017 truck bomb in Kabul that killed and injured hundreds of Afghan civilians. The FBI has a $10 million bounty on his head for information leading to his arrest.

Khalil Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s uncle, is acting minister for refugees. Another leader of the Haqqani network, the FBI has a $5 million bounty on him because of his past ties to al Qaeda. Four former Guantanamo Bay detainees have landed senior government positions as well. These all had been mid- to high-level officials in the old Taliban regime who were captured early in the US war. They were released in a 2014 prisoner exchange.

Interim Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund is under United Nations and European Union sanctions for his close ties to the Taliban’s founders and his role as a military commander. Interim Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar, in addition to serving as a key diplomat, was also a senior military leader coordinating attacks on US and coalition forces during the war.

So yes, the Taliban’s new acting government includes terrorists. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is somehow unprecedented. Let’s look at some examples.

Israel is perhaps the quintessential example of terrorists turned government leaders, at the highest levels. Menachem Begin, who became Israel’s sixth prime minister in 1977, assumed leadership of the Zionist terrorist organization Irgun in 1944 and was the architect of its violent campaign against British occupation of Palestine. Under Begin’s leadership, Irgun was responsible for an escalating series of attacks on government offices and police stations. The most infamous of those attacks was a direct strike against Britain’s administrative and military establishment which was based at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Begin ordered the bombing of the King David, which resulted in the destruction of a wing of the building and the killing of 91 people, mostly British, Arabs, and Jews.

In 1983 Begin was succeeded as prime minister by Yitzhak Shamir, who was himself a former terrorist, a leader of Lehi, also called the Stern Gang, a more militant offshoot of Irgun. Under Shamir’s leadership, Lehi carried out a series of assassinations including that of Lord Moyne, the British Minister for Middle East Affairs. Shamir also ordered the assassination of one of his fellow terrorist leaders, Eliyahu Giladi, the culmination of an internal dispute over strategy.

In January 1947, members of Lehi drove a truck loaded with explosives into a British police station in Haifa, killing four and wounding 140. It is thought to be the first truck bomb in the history of terrorism. A little more than a year later, in a combined operation, Irgun and Lehi terrorists staged an attack on the Palestinian Arab village of Deir Yassin. The resulting massacre left more than 100 Palestinian civilians dead, including women and children.

Northern Ireland provides yet another example of terrorists moving into the halls of government, and at the highest levels. Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorist Martin McGuinness, served from 2007 to 2017 as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. But before he moved into politics, in the 1970s he led the PIRA in his home city of Derry, later rising to head the PIRA’s Northern Command in the 1980s and a seat on the organization’s seven-member Army Council. And in another piece of delicious irony, former PIRA member Alex Maskey, having moved into electoral politics in the early 1980s, found himself some 20 years later with a seat on Northern Ireland’s Policing Board. A former terrorist overseeing the police.

And let’s not exclude ourselves from this discussion. By today’s definitions, the violent revolutionary movement that we remember as the Sons of Liberty was an anti-British terrorist organization that in the 1760s and 1770s carried out attacks against representatives of the Crown, destroyed Crown property, and assaulted and assassinated prominent loyalists in the American colonies. Many of its most notable members went on to play prominent roles in the American War of Independence and the subsequent government of the new United States.

Our patriots of the founding era, familiar names such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Samuel Chase, Christopher Gadsden, and Patrick Henry, got their start as members of or leaders in a terrorist group.

So yes, the new government of Afghanistan is loaded with terrorists. But the Taliban are far from the first to make the leap from terrorist to politician to government. As history shows, they’re just a recent example of a pattern in which we ourselves are a part.

Gaza is a concentration camp

Israeli troops face Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border fence. (Photo: New York Times)
Israeli troops face Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border fence. (Photo: New York Times)

 

Yes, I know that is an inflammatory headline. But what else should we call a place where the inmates are shot down by soldiers when they approach the wire that imprisons them?

gaza_2007_map_correct_PASSIAThe map here (click on it to enlarge), created by Palestinian academics in 2007, helps us understand why. Through the use of fences, exclusion zones, and heavily guarded crossings, Israel controls the flow of goods, construction supplies, even food and medicine, into Gaza. And it prevents most Gazans from leaving.

The fishing limits imposed on Gaza by Israel has led to the collapse of the Gazan fishing industry, with devastating impact on the territory’s economy.

The border fence is designed to keep Palestinians from leaving Gaza; from the Israeli perspective its purpose is to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel. Its effectiveness has been maintained over the years through the use of lethal force.

Just like the lethal force that was used against Palestinian protesters yesterday leaving at least 60 dead and up to 2,000 wounded.

Let that sink in for a moment: Sixty people killed by Israeli soldiers and thousands more wounded.

So think about it again: What else should we call a territory where people are contained against their will, with their movement, livelihoods, even their very lives, under the total control of a military willing to kill in order to maintain that control?

Gaza is a concentration camp.

The art of the what?

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The more the president talks about his approach to negotiation, the more painfully obvious it is he didn’t write a single word of The Art of the Deal. He probably didn’t even read it.

Take, for example, Trump’s head-scratching belief that he has a viable “proposal for peace” between the Palestinians and Israel:

“We have a great proposal for the Palestinians, it covers a lot of the things we discussed over the years.”

However, Trump then noted that the U.S. had taken the issue of Jerusalem out of the talks. “They never got past Jerusalem. We took it off the table. We don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

Given that the status of Jerusalem is one of the most critical issues for the Palestinians, and an essential element of any future two-state solution, this simply defies common sense, as Joshua Keating points out over at Slate:

I may not have written The Art of the Deal, but I’m pretty sure that this is not how negotiations work. If I were applying for a job and negotiating salary, benefits, and vacation days, then told that I would be getting no vacation days at all so that the issue would be “off the table,” I don’t think this would make me more willing to compromise on salary and benefits.

The Palestinians certainly aren’t buying what Trump is selling either.

“Those who say that Jerusalem is off the table are saying that peace is off the table. The holy city is in the hearts of each and every Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim, and there will be no peace without East Jerusalem being the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine,” (Palestinian peace negotiator) Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Trump seems to think he can blackmail the Palestinians to the negotiating table by threatening to withhold aid, as he did in Davos yesterday. But the Palestinian Authority isn’t some porn star who’s silence he can buy, or some contractor he can stiff on the bill.

“Trump could buy many things with his money, but he won’t be able to buy the dignity of our nation,” (Erekat) added.

As for that “great proposal” of a peace deal that Trump claims is on offer, the Palestinians have seen enough to expect it to be a farce. It denies them a capital in Jerusalem, allows Israel to annex West Bank settlements, gives Israel control over Palestinian airports, seaports, maritime and land borders, and leaves the Israeli military free to continue to operate in what is supposed to be a sovereign Palestinian state.

There’s no deal to be had there. And Trump can neither bully, nor buy, his way to one if those are the terms.

What to make of the Jerusalem decision?

Protesters outside the US consulate in Istanbul (AFP/Getty).
Protesters outside the US consulate in Istanbul (AFP/Getty).

 

What to make of President Trump’s decision to announce the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel and begin the process of moving our embassy there?

Well, how darkly cynical are you?

From a policy standpoint, this decision makes less than no sense. In fact, and despite the wishful thinking that may have animated some in the Trump “peace team,” it is counterproductive if our intention was to reinvigorate serious negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinian.

Moreover, it is a spark that could ignite a crisis across the Middle East, as Emma Green points out in The Atlantic.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been a valuable final carrot to cement an agreement if it were offered up during the endgame to negotiations. But to do it now just widens the rift between the sides with the added consequence of destroying literally decades of diplomacy intended to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together rather than drive them apart.

Further, it has dashed any remaining notion that the US could act as some sort of honest broker playing a productive role in the peace process.

To cap it all off, the decision has been met with near-universal condemnation from world leaders (Israel’s own notwithstanding) including vital friends and allies across the region, including in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

So, as policy, this is an awful decision, counterproductive at best, destructive to any peace process at worst. But what about as an act of politics?

The most generous reading is that Trump hopes to gain credibility as a man of his word and satisfy the desires of both his Christian evangelical base and pro-Israel American Jews, including major donors like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, by keeping a promise on Jerusalem made during the campaign.

The less generous take on the politics of this decision roots it firmly in Trump’s willingness to seek political advantage by, as Peter Beinart writes, stoking the fires of anti-Muslim bias.

For Donald Trump, Muslim barbarism is a political strategy. It inspires the fear and hatred that binds him to his base. Muslim barbarism is so politically useful, in fact, that, when necessary, Trump creates it.

During the presidential campaign, he invented mobs of Jersey City Muslims who had celebrated 9/11. After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, he invented a conspiracy in which “many, many people, Muslims living with them, in the same area” had been in on Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s plot. This February, he invented a terrorist attack in Sweden, which he blamed on the fact that Sweden “took in large numbers” of you-know-whos. Just last week, he invented a Muslim migrant’s attack on a crippled Dutch boy.

But on Wednesday, Trump outdid himself. By announcing that America recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he didn’t just invent Muslim violence. He provoked it.

The Trump administration was warned that violent protests were not just possible as a result of this announcement, but likely. The State Department went so far as to yesterday, even before the announcement, issue warnings to Americans in Jerusalem to avoid Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem’s Old City, and for embassies worldwide to increase their security.

Unsurprisingly, protests broke out almost immediately around the world, and the decision has prompted heightened fears of terrorism. Both developments play right into Trump’s political narrative.

So what are we left with? Shockingly bad policy in the service of ugly, divisive politics. In other words, just another day in the Trump White House.