Deaths in ongoing wars have resulted from the mistakes of a handful of politicians. When will they ever learn?

Alper Riza’s review of 2023

Reviews of the year are obviously subjective and necessarily selective. They also involve an exercise in the art of prediction, which I confess is not my forte.

Last year I predicted that Greece and Turkey would continue bickering. I was wrong; 2023 ended with a visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to Greek Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis in Athens in December when, after parking the Cyprob, the two leaders agreed to keep the peace. The agreement was hailed as groundbreaking and marked a new era in their relationship.

I did predicted that Nikos Christodoulides would win the 2023 presidential election in the ROC, but that was not much of a prediction as his only credible rival, Andreas Mavroyiannis, needed an unholy alliance of left and right to win. Only Archbishop Makarios in his prime managed that kind of diverse support; in 1968 when he won a landslide and in 1973 when he was elected unopposed.

My prediction about the Middle East turned out to be right to begin with but wrong in the end. I thought that Israel and the Arab world were mutually reaching out to normalise their relations, that in the end could not survive the terror attack on Israel on October 7, and the ongoing war in Gaza that followed. My prediction is that it will be years before the status quo ante is restored, if at all.

2023 was also not a good year for Israel in terms of international litigation filed against her both before and after October 7. On December 30, 2022, the UN General Assembly by a 60-state majority voted to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The UN General Assembly asked the ICJ what are the legal consequences of Israel’s ongoing violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, arising from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory since 1967 including measures taken by Israel aimed at altering the demographic composition and character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem and from its adoption of related discriminatory measures?

aftermath of the deadly earthquake in kahramanmaras

Searching the rubble after the earthquakes in Turkey.

On December 29, South Africa filed a case with the ICJ against Israel that in her conduct of the war in Gaza since October 7 she has engaged in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people. The ICJ has jurisdiction by virtue of the 1948 Genocide Convention to consider whether a state is killing or causing serious physical or mental harm or deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with intent to do so.

Israel rejected this as an abuse of the process of the ICJ and a disgusting blood libel. The court has no enforcement powers, though it can suggest provisional measures to the parties to preserve lives.

The year began catastrophically for Turkey and Syria when a cluster of earthquakes struck in southern Turkey in February killing more than 40,000 and reducing whole towns and villages to rubble. The earthquakes were felt in Cyprus, both as tremors and also tragically by the community as more than 20 Turkish Cypriot children and their teachers from Famagusta perished in them – a huge loss for a small community.

Erdogan’s response to the catastrophe was to say it was the force of destiny and he promised to rehouse all the survivors within a year. I do not know if he is on course to keep his promise, but the earthquake did not prevent him from winning a third presidential election in May. Love him or loathe him, he is demonstrably a highly-skilled politician and a strong and fearless leader.

2023 was the year when candidates lined up for adoption by their parties for the US presidential election in 2024. Despite his age and occasional senior moments, Jo Biden is likely to be the Democratic Party’s candidate. Donald Trump is the front-runner to be the Republican Party’s candidate, but he has legal obstacles to overcome.

My best prediction in 2023 was not a prediction at all, and was not made in my end of year column, but in an article in August in which I suggested that Trump could be banned from running for president under the 14th amendment of the American Constitution. The 14th amendment says that one cannot hold any public office in the US if having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against it, and that a ban under the 14th amendment does not require a conviction of the crime of insurrection.

In December the Colorado Supreme Court decided among other things that president Trump was a person who had taken an oath to support the American Constitution and confirmed an earlier finding of the fact that he had engaged in rebellion and insurrection against it and was disqualified from running for the office of president in Colorado. Trump appealed to the US Supreme Court and the case is pending. If he loses – a big if – he will no doubt claim the 2024 election was stolen from him by the US Supreme Court. The state of Maine has also now followed Colorado and there may be others. Oddly, the Supreme Court refused to expedite Trump’s appeal.

Last but not least, the war in Ukraine reached a stalemate in 2023. The US is no longer prepared to fund it and Europe, including Britain, is not going to either. All those thousands of dead and maimed young men, Ukrainian and Russian, died for the mistakes of a handful of politicians. And the same goes for the war in Gaza. Both wars happened because of unforced errors in political and military judgment.

My prediction for 2024 is that the wars in Ukraine and Gaza as well as the American election will have very messy ends.

The usual robotic happy new year is inappropriate this year; here’s a short, edited version of Bob Dylan’s anti-war classic instead.

Where have all the young men gone, long time passing

Gone to soldiers, everyone

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn

Where have all the soldiers gone, a long time ago

Gone to graveyards, everyone!

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?