The war in Syria has entered its final stage, one in which diplomacy will dominate military action. The most likely scenario for the end to this conflict—the Syrian government’s victory—creates a set of political risks to the EU: legitimisation of the undemocratic regime in Syria, engagement in highly politicized reconstruction projects that do not contribute to the improvement in living standards of Syrians, and granting Russia political gains without it also accepting adequate responsibility for the fate of Syrian returnees.
Migration is a natural and defining phenomenon of the globalized world. The challenge of governing migration lies in its inevitability, volume, and heterogeneity. As a portion of the global population, migrants represent around 3 percent, but their absolute number is rising. There were 170 million migrants in 2000; today there are roughly 260 million. Migration levels will certainly grow while hostilities continue in the most conflict-ridden regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, the global wealth gap persists, climate change aggravates living conditions in many areas, and the poorer half of the globe becomes more populous.
U.S. President Donald Trump has stated he would like to see the American embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would be discordant with international law and more than four decades of policy of his predecessors. It would bring negative political consequences for the U.S., Israel, the Middle East and the European Union, even if it were well received by some Israelis and American members of Congress.
Status of Jerusalem
After World War I, the city of Jerusalem came under the administration of the United Kingdom through a League of Nations’ mandate on Palestine. At the end of World War II, given the British intention to give up the mandate and withdraw from Palestine, the United Nations undertook to provide a future solution for the region and for Jerusalem itself. UN General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted in November 1947, is based on the premise that Jerusalem would be placed under special international supervision. However, the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 frustrated the implementation of the resolution. The fighting left the city divided in two: a western part occupied by Israel and an eastern part held by Jordan. In 1949, Israel moved most government institutions and parliament (the Knesset) from Tel Aviv to Western Jerusalem. The Knesset then adopted a resolution declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.
The offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s military, supported by Russian troops, on Aleppo—Syria’s largest city—might be successful. This large-scale operation was facilitated by the improved relations between Russia and Turkey and because the United States has only limited military options at its disposal. If Aleppo falls, Assad will have control over territory inhabited by more than 60% of Syrians. The brutality of the Russian attacks in Aleppo may, however, carry a political price in the form of new EU sanctions. The clearly harsher rhetoric of Germany, France and the U.S. toward Russia also shows that these countries will not compromise on Ukraine in return for Russian concessions in Syria.
The Importance of Aleppo
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has retaken significant territory from the Syrian opposition and the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS) since October 2015, mainly because of Russian military involvement. His forces have taken the city of Tadmur (Palmyra), Latakia province and parts of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo (which had 2 million inhabitants), along with its outskirts. Now, Assad’s army is besieging the eastern part of Aleppo under rebel control. The rebels number 8,000 strong and are composed of a dozen, mainly Islamist, groups. On 22 September, the Syrian army launched an offensive to retake the whole of Aleppo. The Russian and Syrian bombardment has caused a severe humanitarian crisis: 275,000 civilians, including 100,000 children, have been deprived of nearly all essential needs.
It goes without saying that Egypt has seen a revolutionary political change. Its new president is a leader of an organization that a little more than a year ago was still banned and feared. Since February 2011 Egyptians have voted four times. Yet, people-oriented policies are nowhere to be found and ordinary Egyptians feel little change for better in their everyday lives. Few dare to say this out loud: big part of the problem is the Egyptian society itself. It is still authoritarian: at work, at home and in the Arab street.
The notion of an authoritarian Arab society is not new. Brian Whitaker, a British columnist at the Guardian, in his book “What’s really wrong with the Middle East” (Saqi, 2009) talks to an Egyptian journalist who explains that not the single Mubarak is the problem but the fact that “Egypt has a million Mubaraks”.