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Arab-Israeli Conflict

Tag Archives | Arab-Israeli Conflict

How the Middle East Peace Process went ‘Poof’

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Secretary of State John Kerry appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations committee

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.

Secretary of State John Kerry appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations committee

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process.” They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof.”

“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe. John Kerry cannot be blamed. He took the whole thing seriously. He is an earnest politician, who tried very very hard to make peace between Israel and Palestine. We should be grateful for his efforts. The trouble is that Kerry had not the slightest idea of what he was getting himself into.

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Kerry’s Self-Imposed Deadline Fast Approaching and the Peace Process Industry

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Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference in London

As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the Obama administration itself. The Obama administration must now conjure up an escape route to avoid a political crisis if the talks are to fail, as they surely will.

Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference in London

Chances are the Americans knew well that peace under the current circumstances is simply not attainable. The Israeli government’s coalition is so adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and anti any kind of agreement that would fall short from endorsing the Israeli apartheid-like occupation, predicated on colonial expansion, annexations of borders, land confiscation, control of holy places and much more. Ideally for Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the right, far-right and ultranationalists, Palestinians would need to be crammed in disjointed communities, separated from each other by walls, Jewish settlements, Jewish-only bypass roads, checkpoints, security fences, and a large concentration of Israeli military presence including permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. In fact, while politicians tirelessly speak of peace, the above is the exact ‘vision’ that the Israelis had in mind almost immediately following the 1967 war – the final conquest of all of historic Palestine and occupation of Arab lands.

Palestinians are currently paying the price of earlier Israeli visions, where Vladimir Jabotinsky’s ‘Iron Wall’ of 1923 was coupled with the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former general and minister in the Israeli government, who took on the task of drawing an Israeli design for the newly conquered Palestinian territories in 67. Not only would it not make any sense for a Zionist leader like Netanyahu – backed by one of the most rightwing governments in Israeli history – to bargain with Palestinians on what he considers to be Eretz Yisrael – the Whole Land of Israel -he has shown no desire, not even the most miniscule, to reach an agreement that would provide Palestinians with any of their rightful demands, true sovereignty notwithstanding.

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Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

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Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”

Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Question is: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region? It is a well known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish. Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.

Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.

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Kasims for Qassams: Interview with Kasim Hafeez

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Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

“In hindsight, I never actually gave a real damn about Palestine, I was just obsessed with hating Israel.” – Kasim Hafeez

Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

When he’s not contributing articles to The Jerusalem Post or The Wall Street Journal, Danny Ayalon is tweeting updates like “just met with Kasim Hafeez, a great friend of Israel.” The Deputy Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beitenu MK isn’t flattering a zealous UJA-Federation of New York fundraising director, but praising a former Muslim radical from England – an apostate and unapologetic Zionist. You can read about Kasim Hafeez and his personal journey on his blog, or perhaps you caught his lecture over the summer during his tour of the Holy Land, ‘The Day I Stopped Hating Israel – Confessions of an ex-Radical.’

As the narrative goes, his worldviews were first challenged when he read The Case for Israel, and this mental reset eventually compelled him to reach out to Israeli advocacy groups. Where his Pakistani father laments Hitler for failing to exterminate enough Jews, Hafeez has come to appreciate Israel and other historical trivia that seem to escape the cognizance of his community – tidbits, like the revelation that Palestine never was a state or a nation, among other things.

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The Complex Israeli: Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

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Menachem Begin (left) meeting with Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Photo: Saar Yaacov

In the middle of the 70s, Ariel Sharon asked me to arrange something for him – a meeting with Yasser Arafat. A few days before, the Israeli media had discovered that I was in regular contact with the leadership of the PLO, which was listed at the time as a terrorist organization.

Menachem Begin (left) meeting with Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Photo: Saar Yaacov

I told Sharon that my PLO contacts would probably ask what he intended to propose to the Palestinians. He told me that his plan was to help the Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, with Arafat as its president. “What about the West Bank?” I asked. “Once Jordan becomes Palestine, there will no longer be a conflict between two peoples, but between two states. That will be much easier to resolve. We shall find some form of partition, territorial or functional, or we shall rule the territory together.”

My friends submitted the request to Arafat, who laughed it off. But he did not miss the opportunity to tell King Hussein about it. Hussein disclosed the story to a Kuwaiti newspaper, Alrai, and that’s how it came back to me. Sharon’s plan was revolutionary at the time. Almost the entire Israeli establishment – including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres – believed in the so-called “Jordanian option”: the idea that we must make peace with King Hussein. The Palestinians were either ignored or considered arch-enemies, or both.

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An Israeli-Iranian Dialogue: Why Not?

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Khamenei

In early December, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Khamenei

The Israeli and Iranian media have not paid much attention to this statement so far, probably assuming that such a meeting is unlikely to happen and that the individuals lack the power to cut a deal. Peres’ position as Israeli President is largely ceremonial and the real power is vested in Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister. For Iran, although President Rouhani runs the government, ultimate power is vested in Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. Logic might suggest – therefore – that there is little in Peres’ offer. A deeper look into the issue, however, reveals a very different story.

Peres has been a major figure in Middle Eastern politics for over six decades. He understands that reducing tension with Tehran would serve Israeli interests in many arenas. Iran has its fingers in almost all the region’s pies. Several of Iran’s allies pose real threats to Israeli national security, most notably Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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Neutrality and the Peace Process

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and John Kerry

A former Israeli army Chief of Staff, a man of limited intelligence, was told that a certain individual was an atheist. “Yes,” he asked, “but a Jewish atheist or a Christian atheist?”Lenin, in his Swiss exile, once inquired about the party affiliation of a newly elected member of the Duma. “Oh, he is just a fool!” his assistant asserted. Lenin answered impatiently: “A fool in favor of whom?”

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and John Kerry

I am tempted to pose a similar question about people touted to be neutral in our conflict: “Neutral in favor of whom?” The question came to my mind when I saw an Israeli documentary about the US intermediaries who have tried over the last 40 years or so to broker peace between the Palestinians and us. For some reason, most of them were Jews. I am sure that all of them were loyal American citizens, who would have been sincerely offended by any suggestion that they served a foreign country, such as Israel. They honestly felt themselves to be neutral in our conflict. But were they neutral? Are they? Can they be? My answer is: No, they couldn’t. Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!

But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology. This does not prevent them from being neutral. Neutral for one side. By the way, in this respect there is no great difference between American Jews and other Americans. They have generally been brought up on the same history and ideology, based on the Hebrew Bible.

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Realities of life in West Bank and Gaza Stymies Peace

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Life on the streets: a checkpoint on the Gaza Strip. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Far from relaxing its economic blockade on Gaza as its negotiators sit across the table from their Palestinian counterparts in the latest attempt at peace talks, Israel has tightened the screw – reimposing a ban, lifted just a month ago, on the transfer of construction materials into the occupied territory.

Life on the streets: a checkpoint on the Gaza Strip. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It took the decision last week after discovering a 1.5 mile (2.4km) tunnel running from Gaza into Israel. The ban on building materials had existed for years on the grounds that Israel thought the materials would be used for building what they called “terror tunnels” from Gaza into Israel from which to launch attacks. It had been finally lifted as part of the gradual easing of the economic blockade on Gaza. Now it is back.

Meanwhile talks continue between the two sides, but very little progress has been achieved since late July over 10 weeks of negotiations which have seen Palestinian, Israeli and US negotiators discuss the release of Palestinian prisoners and the construction of settlements in the West Bank.

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Syria’s Bashar al-Assad finds a New Friend in Cairo

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Syria's President Bashar al-Assad

As the tumultuous waters continue to swirl in the Middle East, President Mohammed Morsi’s fall, the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Sinai insurgency have added new dynamics to Cairo’s foreign policy.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad

Egypt’s emboldened interim-government has embarked on a dramatic new path, which includes a restoration of Egyptian-Syrian relations. The growing Egyptian-Syrian partnership has potential to significantly alter the Middle East’s balance of power when the conflicts in both countries finally resolve.

The latter half of the Cold War’s impact on the Arab world, coupled with several important developments that impacted the region’s balance, pitted the strategic interests of Damascus and Cairo against each other. Such transformations included the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the fall of Iran’s Shah in 1979, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Hezbollah’s 2006 standoff with Israel, the rise of Hamas in Gaza and Western-imposed sanctions on Iran. Consequently, Egyptian-Syrian relations remained peaceful, yet cold, for the majority of the past 39 years. During Hafez al-Assad’s presidency (1970-2000), Syria severed ties with Egypt after it made peace with Israel. However, relations resumed a decade later.

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Syria’s Chemical Weapons: ‘Global Red Line’ Crossed – Kerry

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Secretary of State John Kerry walks through an honor guard as departs the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France on September 7, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry says he and Arab League foreign ministers have agreed that the Syrian president’s alleged use of chemical weapons had crossed a “global red line.”

Secretary of State John Kerry walks through an honor guard as departs the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France on September 7, 2013

John Kerry, speaking in Paris, is in Europe to muster support for action against President Bashar al-Assad. “Assad’s deplorable use of chemical weapons crosses an international, global red line,” he said. The Arab countries are divided on the question of military strikes on Syria. The BBC’s Hugh Schofield reports from Paris that some like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are in favour while others like Syria’s neighbours Jordan and Lebanon are far more cautious, worried about the conflict spreading across their borders.

The US accuses Bashar al-Assad’s forces of killing 1,429 people in a sarin gas attack on 21 August. Assad’s government blames the attack on rebels fighting to overthrow him in the country’s two-and-a-half-year civil war, which has claimed some 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates. There are reports that rebel forces have taken control of the historic Christian town of Maalula, north of Damascus. Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, told the AFP news agency that troops loyal to Assad had withdrawn form the area.

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Conditions Ripe for a Palestinian Spring?

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Activists in Gaza for a rally to show disapproval of Palestinian governance. Issam Rimawi/APA

The waves of mass demonstrations that swept through Tunisia and Egypt have so far passed the people of the Palestinian territories by.

Activists in Gaza for a rally to show disapproval of Palestinian governance. Issam Rimawi/APA

But those events have inspired a youth movement which may have a chance at mobilizing the masses in the first entirely nonviolent Palestinian resistance. There is today a significant amount of frustration across a broad segment of Palestinian society. The peace process with Israel appears incurably stalled, and there is deep anger at the continued failure of Fatah and Hamas, the disputing political factions, to deliver on their promise of reconciliation. “I’ve never seen the West Bank like this before, it’s a ticking time bomb,” says Fadi Elsalameen, a youth leader based in Hebron. “I’m predicting very soon you’ll see every sector of society join in a mass peaceful protest in Palestine.”

The leaders of Palestine’s “March 15” youth movement, a number of whom were interviewed for this article, have attempted to leverage growing discontent into large-scale protests. So far, they have been unable to replicate the success of their Cairo counterparts. The largest demonstration on 15 March 2011, from which the movement takes its name, saw only a couple of thousand turn out in Ramallah, and around 10,000 in Gaza City. “In Palestine, there’s protest fatigue,” says Robert Blecher, director of the Arab-Israeli project at the International Crisis Group. “It’s not going to catch fire until there’s a clear goal.”

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Articulating ‘Palestine’ Despite Israeli Hasbara

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President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office Thursday, May 28, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

What does a Palestinian farmer who is living in a village tucked in between the secluded West Bank hills, a prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail and a Palestinian refugee roaming the Middle East for shelter all have in common?

President Barack Obama meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office Thursday, May 28, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

They are all characters in one single, authentic, solid and cohesive narrative. The problem however, is that western media and academia barely reflect that reality or intentionally distort it, disarticulate it and when necessary, defame its characters. An authentic Palestinian narrative – one that is positioned within an original Palestinian history and articulated through Palestinian thought – is mostly absent from western media and to a lesser degree, academia. If such consideration is ever provided, everything Palestinian suddenly falls into either a side note of a larger Israeli discourse, or at best, juxtaposed to a pro-Israeli plot that is often concealed with hostility. Palestinian news stories are often disconnected, disjoined news items with seemingly no relation to other news items.

They are all marred with negative connotation. In this narrative, a farmer, a prisoner and a refugee barely overlap. Due to this deliberate disconnect, Palestine becomes pieces, ideas, notions, perceptions, but nothing complete or never whole. On the other hand, an Israeli narrative is almost always positioned within a cohesive plot, depending on the nature of the intellectual, political, academic or religious contexts. Even those who dare to criticize Israel within a mainstream western platform, do so ever prudently, gently and cautiously. The outcome of this typical exercise is that Israel’s sanctified image remains largely intact. In the meanwhile Palestinians constantly jockey for validation, representation and space in a well-shielded pro-Israeli narrative.

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Brief Thoughts on the Kerry Nomination and U.S.-Lanka Relations

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Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

Senator John Kerry, right, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee addresses the committee as Senator Richard G. Lugar looks on

President Obama is still working on remaking his foreign policy and national security team, but it looks like John Kerry will be the next Secretary of State. Inside Washington, John Kerry has been a leading voice on foreign policy for decades. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty-seven years, John Kerry has built up a vast network of contacts abroad. John Kerry understands the politics of the Middle East. And he has already travelled extensively for the Obama administration – going to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Susan Rice wisely withdrew her name from consideration. That was about more than Benghazi. She has the brains to be Secretary of State, for sure. Rice’s problem is that she’s not diplomatic, at all really. The late Richard Holbrooke will be remembered for his arrogance and vanity. Nonetheless, one doesn’t need to have a PhD from Oxford (like Susan Rice) to understand that pointedly displaying one’s middle finger at Holbrooke during a meeting of senior State officials is probably not a good idea. Besides, the diplomacy business can be far more tedious than State department meetings – just ask Hillary Clinton.

Senators on both sides of the aisle like and respect John Kerry. Obama will have to spend almost no political capital on this pick and Kerry will be confirmed easily. But what about John Kerry’s foreign policy in South Asia? What does it mean for US-Lanka relations? Reporters and journalists of all stripes have recently been asking those two questions and, unfortunately, I think many people have been missing a central point.

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The Role of the ICC in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations.  J Carrier/UN

To the delight of many states and the dismay and indignation of some, Palestine has made a step forward on the international stage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations. J Carrier/UN

Last week, the UN General Assembly accepted the request which granted Palestine the status of a “non-member observer State”. Palestine’s role at the UN will not undergo a drastic change, but the International Criminal Court might be mentioned more often in the future when we read about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Palestine is now eligible to sign the Rome Statute of the ICC with possible consequences for Israel. These consequences might appear in the form of Palestinian demands to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted by Israel.

Palestine recognized the ICC’s jurisdiction already in 2009, albeit unsuccessfully as the ICC rejected the unilateral declaration on the grounds that Palestine does not fulfill the basic prerequisite of being a state. Importantly, the ICC claimed that in the case of a dispute about the question whether an applicant does meet the requirements attributed to statehood, the UN Secretary General, who receives the instrument of accession, would follow the advice of the UN General Assembly. The Assembly has now spoken and decided in favor of Palestine. The ICC was established by the Rome Statute and is tasked to hold individuals accountable for crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, aggression, and genocide. Palestine is likely to address crimes on its territory such as forced displacement and persecution. Israel, which is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, would struggle to justify these alleged crimes as military necessity.

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Palestine’s New Status: A Rerun or a New Strategy?

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Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, with his delegation in the General Assembly Hall following the Assembly's decision.  Rick Bajornas/UN

Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, with his delegation in the General Assembly Hall following the Assembly’s decision. Rick Bajornas/UN

The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’. Empowered by Arab support at the Rabat Arab League summit in October 1974, which bestowed on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the ever-opaque title “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, Arafat was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly.

Despite the fervor that accompanied the newly found global solidarity, Arafat’s language singled a departure from what was perceived by Western powers as radical and unrealistic political and territorial ambitions. In his speech on November 13, Arafat spoke of the growing PLO’s legitimacy that compelled his actions: “The PLO has earned its legitimacy because of the sacrifice inherent in its pioneering role and also because of its dedicated leadership of the struggle. It has also been granted this legitimacy by the Palestinian masses…The PLO has also gained its legitimacy by representing every faction, union or group as well as every Palestinian talent, either in the National Council or in people’s institutions.” The list went on, and, despite some reservations, each had a reasonable degree of merit.

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