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AS IT IS

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From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS!

Hello, again, and welcome. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

Today, we take a closer look at a story that is almost always in the news. Why is it that the Israelis and the Palestinians never seem to be able to solve their problems at the peace table?

Some American experts provide some ideas.

We will also hear from an international organization that is being kept busy these days looking for pirates.

But first, some good news. There has been a big improvement in the humanitarian situation in Somalia. The United Nations says better aid has been getting into the country, militants have been defeated, and much needed rain has finally arrived.

There are about one million fewer Somalis listed as being in crisis. That is half the total number of people who were in crisis six months ago. In 2011, famine – widespread lack of food – was declared in several parts of Somalia. Many people died and many others walked for weeks to reach areas with food and water.

Luca Alinovi directs the operations of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization – the FAO –in Somalia. Mr. Alinovi said

FAO worked against the famine by providing money.

“During the famine and the season after, we have been substantially intervening with cash-based intervention. We have been supporting the people to stay where they were.”

Mr. Alinova said FAO was especially strong in supporting the cash-for-work program. The program aided people so they could produce during a difficult season and breed animals. He said earlier interventions were based more on simply providing food, shelter and other needs.

At a time when climate change has made yearly rainfall either hard to predict or scarce, 2012 had good rainfall, he said. And two major rivers that cross Somalia are good for irrigation – providing water – to the land.

Another major improvement affecting the humanitarian situation has been success in fighting al Shabab militants. Forces from the African Union known as AMISOM have driven the group out of many areas. But Mr. Alinovi says insecurity is still a problem.

“It’s still quite unstable and the military operation is still ongoing very much, particularly in the agricultural area, in the rural area, which obviously creates a climate of uncertainty.”

The FAO official said most of the rural area remains under the control of al Shabab.

Peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have not happened for more than two years. The disputed issues include who will govern Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees, and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Steve Ember has more, and some well-known experts also have a say.

Peace talks stopped in September twenty ten when Israel restarted settlement building in the West Bank. Palestinians say they will not negotiate until Israel stops building. Israel says it will not stop and Israeli officials are calling for talks to begin again without conditions.

Experts say one problem for the peace process is that Palestinian leadership is divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The West Bank is run by the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. The elected leaders in the Gaza Strip are from Hamas. Israel and the American State Department consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft served under Presidents Gerald Ford and George Herbert Walker Bush. He says the Palestinians must show a united front.

“If Hamas can’t be induced, if you will, to join with Fatah, and really pursue the peace process, then a two-state solution might be given up on and that would be a disaster for everybody.”

Last November, the U-N General Assembly gave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a rare diplomatic victory.

The U-N voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. Experts say the United States must be more involved in advancing the peace process. But William Cohen, a former defense secretary in the administration of President Bill Clinton, says the United States has a problem.

“The United States, frankly, has not had the perception of being an even-handed broker, because of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel. And I think many of the Palestinians see this as not being fair-handed or even-handed.”

Despite that, Mister Cohen says the United States is the only country capable of being an “honest broker.” I’m Steve Ember.

The days of the tall ships and white sails in the winds are gone, but piracy remains a problem in many places. The International Maritime Bureau says the Gulf of Guinea now has some of the most dangerous waters in the world. Jeri Watson tells us more.

The IMB says there were 27 attacks in Nigerian waters last year.

Only 10 attacks were reported the year before. That makes the area the second most dangerous waterway for shippers after the coast of Somalia. The Somali area had a big decrease in pirate attacks last year. Still almost 70 attacks took place in 2012.

The director of the International Maritime Bureau, Pottengal Mukundan, says in attacks off Somalia, for example, people are held hostage for money. In West Africa, pirates take the cargoson the ships -- the goods the ships are carrying.

“The most serious cases are those where tankers, product tankers, are hijacked in order to steal a part of the cargo.”

This theft of cargo takes about seven to 10 days. Then the ship and its crew are freed. Mr. Mukundun says this does not mean that piracy victims in West Africa are always safe. Still, he says officials can stop such attacks without threatening the crew. And he says the pirate boats can be found from the air without too much difficulty.

The International Maritime Bureau blames the increase in piracy on the lack of naval resources in the Gulf. But some local people in Nigeria say growing discontent in the oil-rich Niger Delta causes piracy.

Jackson Timiyan heads a national group for young people in the Niger Delta. He says young men become pirates because they are poor and have no jobs. But poverty may not be the only cause of piracy. During the past ten years, local armed groups have attacked foreign and government oil interests. They demanded a share of the wealth.

The uprising ended with the government giving amnesty to tens of thousands of militants. I’m Jeri Watson.

That’s all we have for today. We thank you for listening and hope you heard something that helped to explain our sometimes confusing world.

We really would like to hear from you. Tell us what you want to hear about on our new show. We want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, as it is.

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