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The hypocrisy of world leaders at WWI’s 100th anniversary

Nov 14,2018 - Last updated at Nov 14,2018

During the solemn commemoration in Paris of the end of World War I, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the 71 other world leaders gathered beside the Arc de Triomphe to reject "nationalism", which he argued undermines a nation's “moral values”.

In France and across the world, similar ceremonies were held last Sunday to mark the centenary of the armistice, which was signed at 11am, on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. During the four-year conflict, the first to be dubbed a "world war", 9.7 million combatants and 10 million civilians died.

In his address before France's tomb of the unknown soldier, Macron called on the assembled leaders to "fight for peace" so that future generations will not blame the current generation for fresh wars. With the aim of promoting such an effort, Macron held a "peace forum" after the commemorations.

While his was a moving speech, he was being hypocritical as he and many of the leaders who heard his fine words are involved in illegal occupations, violence against their own people and others and fuelling wars with arms sales. This region has suffered most from this hypocrisy as well as the dirty colonial deals for dividing up the collapsing Ottoman Empire made by France and Britain before the end of World War I.

France, the US and the UK, in particular, are prolonging the war in Yemen by providing logistics support for the Saudi-led coaltion and continuing profitable arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. None of the enablers have called for an immediate ceasefire in the Yemen war followed by urgent peace talks. US President Donald Trump’s administration has, however, proposed a ceasefire at the end of this month ahead of negotiations. This would give the Saudi-led coalition the opportunity to conquer the all-important Red Sea port at Hodeida, through which 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports flow.

Aware that there will be no early ceasefire unless strong pressure is exerted on the Saudis and Emiratis, UN Mediator Martin Griffiths has postponed talks, due to convene in Sweden, until the end of next month.

The US is also financing the Israeli occupation and colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank; territory the international community argues should be the basis of an independent Palestinian state. While the "two-state solution" is meant to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the US and Western powers have done nothing to halt the Israeli colonisation process, which has made it impossible for the Palestinians to gain self-determination and independence and forces them to live in perpetuity under Israeli domination.

Among the leaders attending the Armistice commemorations was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who departed early, missing the "peace forum", because of an eruption of violence in Gaza, when an Israeli hit team infiltrated the coastal strip and killed seven Palestinians in the Khan Younis area. A senior Israeli officer was killed in an exchange of fire. Hamas responded by lobbing rockets into southern Israel and Israel retaliated by attacking Gaza, risking a major flare-up during a period of lowering tension.

The US and Europe have done nothing to prevent the three wars Israel has inflicted on Gaza since late 2008 or to end Israel's crippling siege and blockade, which has destroyed the strip's economy and punished Gaza's 2 million citizens in violation of international humanitarian law. 

Since March, desperate Palestinians have mounted Friday protests at the fence separating Gaza from Israel under the slogan, the "Great March of Return", demanding the right to return to homes from which they were expelled by Israel in 1948. More than 220 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded; one Israeli soldier died.

The US, the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar have provided funds, arms and political support for the range of insurgent and radical fundamentalist groups waging war on the government in Syria. Turkey continues to support some of these groups, including Al Qaeda-linked radicals, and has recruited their fighters to control areas in northern Syria illegally occupied by the Turkish army.

The US has intervened directly in the Syrian conflict by sponsoring a militia dubbed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is dominated by Syrian Kurds tied to Turkey's Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting Ankara for autonomy or independence since 1984. The SDF, the most effective of the Syrian units sponsored by the US, was instrumental in the campaign to drive Daesh from its capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa. The SDF subsequently seized vast desert areas in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor provinces, 25 per cent of Syria. The US also deploys more than 2,000 special forces troops in this area, allegedly, as "advisers" to the SDF.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sat in the front row of the leaders while Macron spoke of "peace", has responded by threatening to drive the SDF from the broad band of territory held by the Kurds on the Syrian side of the border. Last week, the Turkish army shelled key towns in the Kurdish-held frontier enclave. The US intervened, weakly, in a bid to postpone Erdogan's oft-promised military campaign against the Syrian Kurds.

Finally Donald Trump, who remained wooden-faced during the Armistice Day ceremonies, has unilaterally reimposed US economic sanctions on Iran and threatened with punishment any government, business or individual who breaches these sanctions. Trump took this action although Iran has honoured the 2015 deal to dismantle key portions of nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. He has alienated the UK, France, China, Russia, Germany and the European Union, the other sponsors of the agreement, but he could not care less. He has also gutted international agreements on climate change, reduction of nuclear weapons and trade, undermining the imperfect but functioning multilateral international accords established after World War II, accords which were meant to prevent a third world war.

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