Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process

Special Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a picture with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and the UAE following their meeting in Negev, Israel, on March 28, 2022. AFP file)
Special Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process
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(L-R) Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the signing the the Abraham Accords. (AFP)
Special Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process
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The flags of the UAE and Israel fly at the Expo 2020 Dubai on January 31, 2022. (AFP)
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Rabbi Levi Duchman lights a large menorah at the Israeli Pavilion of Expo 2020 in Dubai on Nov. 28, 2021, marking the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. (AFP)
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Jared Kushner, son in law of former US President Donald Trump, was considered to have played a crucial role in the signing of the Abraham Accords. (Getty Images via AFP)
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An Emirates plane is given a welcoming water salute upon landing at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod on June 23, 2022, marking the airline's first passenger flight from the UAE to Israel. (AFP file)
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Updated 06 October 2022

Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process

Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process
  • Abraham Accords have normalized ties between Israel and an Arab quartet: UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco
  • Greenblatt: Normalization leads to a reasonable, peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict

MISSOURI, USA: With the two-year anniversary of the historic Abraham Accords upon us, it seems as good a time as any to reflect upon the changes they heralded for the Middle East and North Africa.

The agreement has normalized relations so far between Israel and four Arab countries: the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Jason Greenblatt’s “In the Path of Abraham” offers readers an inside account of the thinking and process which made the accords possible. Appointed by President Donald Trump in 2016 as representative for international negotiations, Greenblatt, together with Jared Kushner, Ambassador David Friedman and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz led the US efforts to broker peace between Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors.

The book offers a very accessible, clear and forthright account of how they approached this monumental task. In the process, Greenblatt and his colleagues had to throw out much of the received wisdom on the Arab-Israeli conflict accumulated over the years and propagated by a vast army of “experts” on the issue.

The long-held consensus view on this conflict maintained that one could not pursue peace and normalization between Israel and various Arab states until after a final peace deal with the Palestinians had been achieved.

That peace deal with the Palestinians proved ever elusive, however, even to this day, effectively giving the Palestinian political parties a veto over anything to do with Israel in the region.

The MENA region has changed over time, however, even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears frozen in place.

The old experts, from academics and think tanks to intelligence officers and people manning desks in the State Department or various foreign ministries, largely failed to appreciate the changes. 

Pan-Arabism does not exert the same hold over the Arab world that it once did, and while most Arab leaders and their public remain very sympathetic to the Palestinians, they also have their own state interests to look to. 

Iran, in particular, looms very large within the risk assessments of various Arab states, and in Israel they can find a militarily and technologically powerful — and determined foe — of Iran with which to make common cause. 

An integral part of the MENA region, whether some like it or not, Israel is also not going anywhere. Indeed, in the present circumstances, Israel will neither lose sight of the threat that Tehran poses, nor fail to grasp the geopolitical significance of a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Common interests between many Arab states and Israel go beyond Iran as well, as Greenblatt so astutely understood, and the Palestinian leadership’s intransigence in the face of various Israeli peace offers over the years could no longer be permitted to veto such a confluence of interests.

FASTFACT

2020

The Abraham Accords, signed in September 2020, normalized relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

He writes: “By continuing to make perfect the enemy of the good, the Palestinian Authority had, slowly but surely, eroded much of what was once rock-solid political and financial support by its neighbors.

“For more and more Arab countries, it was one thing to support the desire of Palestinians for a peaceful state, but it had become increasingly untenable to continue to make that cause a higher priority than the competing needs of their citizens who both desired and deserved a more prosperous future as well.” 

That common interest resides not just in geopolitical alignments and threats, but in the social and economic realms as well — including energy, food, water, health, and other issues.

Greenblatt provides the example of a recent Rand Corporation study that “forecasts nearly $70 billion in direct new aggregate benefits for Israel and its four partners (the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan) in these free trade agreements over the next decade and the creation of almost 65,000 new jobs.

If all five partners, in turn, trade with one another in a plurilateral FTA, Rand calculates the additional aggregate benefits will exceed $148 billion and the jobs created to exceed 180,000.” 

The Arab leaders in the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan proved far-sighted enough and courageous enough to see all this as well and take the necessary steps. 

Advocates of the Abraham Accords model argue, rightly or wrongly, that reversing the equation of “peace with the Palestinians first, normalization with the Arab world after” increases the likelihood of arriving at an Israeli-Palestinian peace as well. As evidence, they say some 70 years of Arab League boycotts and shunning of Israel certainly did nothing to achieve peace.

For better or worse, the united Arab front against Israel convinced Israelis of the need to remain militarily strong and vigilant, decreasing their ability to imagine any scenario in which the Arab world would truly accept them and make genuine peace.

Yet since everyone pretty much agrees that an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated peace remains the most difficult and elusive objective, why not marshal the assistance of all those who share that goal? 

Most of the Arab states in the MENA region most definitely want a reasonable peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and now the ones that have normalized relations with Israel can help bring it about. 




Jason Greenblatt (L) meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 25, 2017. (AFP file)

They can help broker talks, they can help persuade both Israelis and Palestinians to find a middle ground somewhere, and, most of all, they can become stronger forces for moderate politics in the region.

Greenblatt and his team understood all this. They did not just sense that the Arab region was ready for a change in policy, however.

They tirelessly worked to help bring about the change for the better, and in the process probably improved the lives of millions in the region. 

For that we all owe them our thanks. 

Unfortunately, the people who could most benefit from reading this account behind the Abraham Accords will probably never do so. People do not, as a rule, like to read about how they were wrong. There are also more minor things in the book to take issue with, which might dissuade some readers.

Many Americans (including this reviewer) will not at all share the author’s extremely high regard for former President Trump, for instance. To such readers, the same president who threw Washington’s Kurdish allies under the bus in 2017 and 2019 — the very allies who defeated Daesh with a US-backed coalition — cannot be trusted to understand the region nor to always make the right call.




Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters during a demonstration against settlement expansion in al-Mughayer in the occupied West Bank on July 29, 2022. (AFP file)

I would also expect Israeli policymakers to receive at least some criticism at some point somewhere in the book. The issue of illegal settlements might be a case in point — I still cannot understand how Israel can claim more land in the occupied West Bank (Judea and Samaria) without accepting (meaning offering citizenship to) the people there.

The simple unavoidable calculus supporting a two-state solution still seems to be that you cannot have one without the other — if you take all the land, you need to take all the people there too and offer them equal citizenship. If offering them equal citizenship is too dangerous for Israel, then settlements need to stop in order for the Palestinians to retain enough land for a viable and dignified state of their own — whenever they might be ready for that. 

Finally, the issue of the Iran nuclear accords remains a thorny one. The uncomfortable truth is that Iran has made more progress toward building nuclear weapons since Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear accord than in the years following its signing. There may be no good answers here as long as the US lacks the appetite for military conflict with Iran, a lack of appetite that the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations all shared.




(L-R) Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the signing the the Abraham Accords. (AFP)

In Greenblatt’s telling of the issue, things are a good deal simpler: The nuclear deal with Iran was a con job that Obama and Kerry fell for, and Trump put a stop to that. The counterargument is, apart from the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, the Trump administration achieved little in the matter of defanging Iran.

The regime remains solidly in place, uranium enrichment has expanded rather than quieted down, and Iranian influence in places such as Iraq and Syria is stronger than ever (especially after Trump chose to let Iranian and Iraqi forces attack Washington’s Kurdish allies in October 2017).

These quibbles notwithstanding, Greenblatt’s book remains well worth picking up. The narrative regarding peace and progress in the MENA region, including an almost contagious optimism for such, could use more space on any bookshelf.

-----------------------

“In the Path of Abraham,” Jason D. Greenblatt (New York: Wicked Son Publishing, hard cover, 325 pages). 

Reviewer: David Romano, Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics, Missouri State University

 

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Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
Updated 27 January 2023

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
  • A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons

THE HAGUE: An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog established there are “reasonable grounds to believe” Syria’s air force dropped two cylinders containing chlorine gas on the city of Douma in April 2018, killing 43 people.
A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons during his country’s grinding civil war.
“The use of chemical weapons in Douma – and anywhere – is unacceptable and a breach of international law,” OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said.
The organization said that “reasonable grounds to believe” is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
Syria, which joined the OPCW in 2013 under pressure from the international community after being blamed for another deadly chemical weapon attack, does not recognize the investigation team’s authority and has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.
Despite the latest findings, bringing perpetrators in Syria to justice remains a long way off. Syria’s ally Russia has, in the past, blocked efforts by the UN Security Council to order an International Criminal Court investigation in Syria.
“The world now knows the facts – it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond,” Arias, a veteran Spanish diplomat, said.
The report said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that during a government military offensive to recapture Douma, at least one Syrian air force Mi8/17 helicopter dropped two yellow cylinders on the city.
One of the cylinders hit the roof of a three-story residential building and ruptured, “rapidly released toxic gas, chlorine, in very high concentrations, which rapidly dispersed within the building killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more,” according to the report.
A second cylinder burst through the roof of another building into an apartment below and only partially ruptured, “mildly affecting those who first arrived at the scene,” the report added.
Syrian authorities refused the investigation team access to the sites of the chlorine attacks. The country had its OPCW voting rights suspended in 2021 as punishment for the repeated use of toxic gas, the first such sanction imposed on a member nation.
The painstaking investigation by the organization’s team, was set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, built on earlier findings by an OPCW fact-finding mission that chlorine was used as a weapon in Douma.
The investigators also interviewed dozens of witnesses and studied the blood and urine of survivors as well as samples of soil and building materials, according to the watchdog agency.
The investigators also carefully assessed and rejected alternative theories for what happened, including Syria’s claim that the attack was staged and that bodies of people killed elsewhere in Syria were taken to Douma to look like victims of a gas attack.
The report found that the two cylinders carrying chlorine were modified and filled at the Dumayr air base and the helicopter or helicopters that dropped them were under control of the Syrian military’s elite Tiger Force.
The OPCW team “considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: that the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack,” the organization said in a statement.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.


One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
Updated 27 January 2023

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
  • The attack led to the death of the head of the security team and injured others

DUBAI: A man armed with a Kalashnikov-style rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital Friday, killing the head of security at the diplomatic post and wounding two guards, authorities said.
Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, blamed the attack on “personal and family problems,” according to Iranian state television. However, the assault comes as tensions have been high for months between neighboring Azerbaijan and Iran.
Video purportedly from the scene of the attack showed an empty diplomatic police post just near the embassy, with one man apparently wounded in an SUV parked outside. Inside the embassy past a metal detector, paramedics stood over what appeared to be a lifeless body in a small office as blood pooled on the floor beneath.
A statement from Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that “an investigation is currently underway into this treacherous attack.” The ministry also described the attacker as destroying a guard post with assault rifle fire before being stopped by the wounded guards, whom authorities described as being in a “satisfactory” condition after being shot.
Iranian state TV quoted Rahimi as saying the gunman had entered the embassy with his two children during the attack. However, surveillance footage from inside the embassy released in Azerbaijan, which matched details of the other video of the aftermath and bore a timestamp matching the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry’s statement, showed the gunmen burst through the embassy’s doors alone.
Those inside tried to push through metal detector to take cover. The man opens fire with the rifle, its muzzle flashing, as he chases after the men into the small side office. Another man bursts from a side door and fights the gunman for the rifle as the footage ends.
Iranian prosecutor Mohammad Shahriari reportedly said that the gunman’s wife had disappeared in April after a visit to the embassy. The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency quoted Shahriari as saying the gunman believed his wife was still in the embassy at the time of the attack — even though it was some eight months later.
Azerbaijan borders Iran’s northwest. There have been tensions between the two countries as Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Iran in October launched a military exercise near the Azerbaijan border, flexing its martial might amid the nationwide protests rocking the Islamic Republic. Azerbaijan also maintains close ties to Israel, which Tehran views as its top regional enemy. The Islamic Republic and Israel are locked in an ongoing shadow war as Iran’s nuclear program rapidly enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Turkiye, which has close ties to Azerbaijan, condemned the attack, called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and for measures to be put in place to prevent similar attacks in the future. Turkiye has backed Azerbaijan against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Turkiye, which has been subjected to similar attacks in the past, deeply shares the pain of the Azerbaijani people,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. “Brotherly Azerbaijan is not alone. Our support to Azerbaijan will continue without interruption, as it always has.”


Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid
Updated 27 January 2023

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

JERUSALEM: Gaza militants fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes early Friday as tensions soared following an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
It was the deadliest single raid in the territory in over two decades. The flare-up in violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Palestinian militants fired five rockets at Israel, the military said. Three were intercepted, one fell in an open area and another fell short inside Gaza. Israel carried out a series of airstrikes at what it said were militant targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Thursday’s deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp was likely to reverberate on Friday as Palestinians gather for weekly Muslim prayers that are often followed by protests. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, had earlier threatened revenge for the raid.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The Palestinian Authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
The Israeli strikes early Friday targeted training sites for Palestinian militant groups, the military said. Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at a Hamas militant base before fighter jets struck it, causing four large explosions.
Air raid sirens went off in southern Israel as the initial two rockets were fired and then again after the airstrikes, when the militants fired the other three rockets.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin. President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people.” He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable.” But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties and to pursue the matter at international organizations was a mistake.
Thursday’s gunbattle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad claimed three others. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas’ secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz Al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
The Israeli military circulated aerial video it said was taken during the battle, showing what appeared to be Palestinians on rooftops hurling stones and firebombs on Israeli forces below. At least one Palestinian can be seen opening fire from a rooftop.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday’s raid. Israel’s paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Israel’s new national security minister, far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who seeks to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, posted a video of himself beaming triumphantly and congratulating security forces.
The raid left a trail of destruction in Jenin. A two-story building, apparently the operation’s target, was a charred wreck. The military said it entered the building to detonate explosives.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics struggled to reach the wounded during the fighting, while Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the military prevented emergency workers from evacuating them.
Both accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video at the hospital showed women carrying children into a corridor.
The military said forces closed roads to aid the operation, which may have complicated rescue efforts, and that tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from nearby clashes.
The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said Thursday marked the single bloodiest West Bank incursion since 2002, at the height of an intense wave of violence known as the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which left scars still visible in Jenin.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed and saddened” by the violence. Condemnations came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Turkiye, which recently reestablished full diplomatic ties with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries also condemned the Israeli raid.
The Islamic Jihad branch in Gaza has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Hamas, which seized power from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 2007, has fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes with Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B’Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. So far this year, not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim those territories for their hoped-for state.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that now house 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for over a decade.


France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee
Updated 27 January 2023

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Thursday, the French presidency said, signing a set of strategic agreements meant to boost Iraq’s economic cooperation with the European country.
In the meeting, France and Iraq signed a treaty that seeks to strengthen bilateral relations in anti-corruption, security, renewable energy and culture, the Elysee Palace said on Friday.


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.