Who Wants Peace in Darfur?

The “Save Darfur” rally today was aired on C-Span.  The rally was small — only several thousands according to Reuters (“Thousands March to Stop Darfur Killing,” 30 April 2006).  And the crowd in attendance was overwhelmingly white.  But, boy, it was a professionally-staged photo op, with celebs, politicos, and exiles from Sudan at the podium expertly framed by the U.S. Capitol in the background.

The timing of the rally was perfect, designed to coincide — and scuttle — the Abuja peace negotiations between the rebels and Khartoum brokered by the African Union, whose deadline is midnight today.  And sure enough, the rebels rejected the peace deal:

The rebels called for changes to the deal hours before an African Union deadline — and after the Sudanese government indicated it would accept the proposal. . . . The Sudanese government had said it was ready to sign the agreement.  But a spokesman for one of Sudan’s rebel factions said the proposal does not adequately address implementation nor their key demands for a vice president from Darfur and more autonomy.  Hahmed Hussein, a spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, said he was speaking for both rebel factions.  (Associated Press, “Rebels Reject Draft Darfur Peace Deal,” New York Times 30 April 2006)

Really, why should the rebels accept any peace deal, when Washington, given an excuse by the pro-war rally organized by an odd alliance of evangelicals and establishment Jews,1 is pushing for NATO interventions just at this moment?  “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region was not strong enough and that NATO should take on a larger role there” (Reuters, “Rice Urges Expanded NATO Role in Darfur,” 30 April 2006).  The rebels would naturally think: “Why don’t we wait till Washington sends us NATO or UN or US troops to weaken the government’s hands, so we can get a better deal?”

Remember how the specter of an international military intervention prolonged the civil war in Yugoslavia?  General Charles G. Boyd puts it cautiously: “It . . . appears to be true the United States encouraged [Alija] Izetbegovic to reject the EC-sponsored cantonization plan agreed upon in two separate meetings in late winter 1992″ (“Making Peace with the Guilty: The Truth about Bosnia,” Foreign Affiars September/October 1995).  It’s the same dynamics in Sudan . . . except the prize this time is more valuable than territories: “Sudan has proven reserves of some 563 million barrels of oil, with the potential for far more in regions of the country made inaccessible by conflict” (Esther Pan, “China, Africa, and Oil,” Council on Foreign Relations, 12 January 2006).

Putting an end to the Darfur conflict now would consolidate Beijing’s dominant position in Sudan’s oil industry:

China has a $4 billion investment in the country widely believed to have the largest untapped oil reserves in Africa.  The China National Petroleum Corp. has a 40% stake in Greater Nile Petroleum, which owns oil fields, a pipeline, a large refinery and a port.  Last year, China purchased more than half of Sudan’s oil exports.  Conversely, Sudan accounted for 6% of China’s oil imports, about 200,000-plus barrels a day.  (Jon D. Markman, “How China Is Winning the Oil Race,” MSN Money, 25 April 2006)

Who wants peace in Darfur?  Certainly not Washington . . . at least till it gets its share of black gold.


1   The conflict in Sudan, which pits Islamists (the Justice and Equality
against Islamists (the government of Sudan), is the last conflict in which Jews
would want to get involved in any way, the least of all side by side with
evangelical Christians, especially given that the leader of JEM is said to be a fan of Osama bin Laden:

Although analysts have emphasized the racial and ethnic aspects of the conflict in Darfur, a long-running political battle between Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir and radical Islamic cleric Hassan al-Turabi may be more relevant. A charismatic college professor and former speaker of parliament, Turabi has long been one of Bashir’s main political rivals and an influential figure in Sudan. He has been fingered as an extremist; before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Turabi often referred to Osama bin Laden as a hero. More recently, the United Nations and human rights experts have accused Turabi of backing one of Darfur’s key rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, in which some of his top former students are leaders. Because of his clashes with Bashir, Turabi is usually under house arrest and holds forth in his spacious Khartoum villa for small crowds of followers and journalists. But diplomats say he still mentors rebels seeking to overthrow the government. (Emily Wax, “5 Truths About Darfur,” Washington Post 23 April 2006, p. B03)

UPDATE (4 May 2006):

Washington revised the draft peace proposal more to the rebels’ liking: “Two Sudanese rebels close to the negotiations, also declining to be identified until the new proposal is made official, said the revised draft addressed their demands for greater power and wealth sharing” (Michelle Faul, “Darfur Rebels: New Peace Proposal Meets Key Demands,” Associated Press, 4 May 2006).

It looks like Washington is changing gears — very smart of Bush, for once!  This will not be the end of this, though — keep your eyes on this.

UPDATE 2 (5 May 2006)

The Sudan Liberation Army signed a peace agreement with Khartoum.  Now, only the JEM is left (Lydia Polgreen and Joel Brinkley, “Biggest Rebel Faction in Darfur Poised to Sign Peace Deal,” New York Times, 4 May 2006).

Will the “30 Days for Darfur” campaign, “inspired by a meeting between Rabbi [David] Saperstein [Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism], President Bush, and other Darfur advocates” (“Reform Jewish Movement Launches ’30 Days For Darfur’ Campaign with www.30daysfordarfur.org,” 2 May 2005), still be pressing on?   If so, the main effect of it, ironically, will be to strengthen the position of the Islamist JEM and extract more concessions from Khartoum on their behalf.

Why not respond to Jewish leftists demanding action for a US withdrawal from Iraq instead?

Almost six months after putting Judaism’s largest denomination on record calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a divided Reform movement has let languish the resolution it passed with great fanfare at its November biennial convention.

The Union for Reform Judaism resolution, which demanded “a clear exit strategy . . . with specific goals for [U.S.] troop withdrawal,” marked

the first — and still only — official stand by a major Jewish organization against the war, even as polls consistently show Jews more strongly opposed to the war than the country as a whole.

But since writing President George W. Bush in December repeating the resolution’s main points, Reform leaders have not issued any press statements on the issue. The numerous action alerts sent to Reform congregations nationwide have called for action on issues ranging from the crisis in Darfur to the bloody budget battle on Capitol Hill — but not a word on Iraq.

Now, some of the Reform rabbis and lay leaders who strongly supported the resolution are beginning to voice criticism. (James D. Besser, “Reform Movement Goes Silent On Its Anti-War Stand: Five Months after Resolution at Biennial, Liberal Stream Paralyzed in Follow-up,” The Jewish Week, 14 April 2006)

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney “delivered the Bush administration’s strongest rebuke of Russia to date. He said the Russian government ‘unfairly and improperly restricted’ people’s rights and suggested that it sought to undermine its neighbors and to use the country’s vast resources of oil and gas as ‘tools of intimidation or blackmail'” (“Strong Rebuke for the Kremlin From Cheney,” New York Times 4 May 2006), with no evidence whatsoever.  Of course, his motive has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with Moscow’s refusal to agree to the US demand for sanctions or military strikes on Iran.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which initiated the “Save Darfur” coalition with American Jewish World Service, had also issued a “Genocide Watch” for Chechnya in 2001 (note that it has nothing to say about Iraq, though the latest estimate of Iraqi casualties numbers 200,000, about the same as the Darfur casualty estimate — the only “[p]laces currently on the [Holocaust Museum Committee on Conscience’s] standing agenda” are Chechnya, Sudan: Darfur, and Sudan: South/Nuba Mtns).  Don’t be surprised if the Holocaust Museum follows the Bush administration’s lead (as in Darfur) and tries to start a grassroots campaign on Chechnya (tough as it may be after Beslan).

Jewish leftists have tough work cut out for them: changing the direction of Jewish activism.

Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.