The Arab Spring in North Africa began in Tunisia in December 2010, with the self-immolation of a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who had his fruit and vegetable cart confiscated by local authorities. Massive protests forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. President Moncef Marzouki his successor failed to unify the country, and under political pressure agreed to hold new elections– which he postponed twice. Islamists have carried out attacks against members of parliament and political leaders, recently killing two moderate candidates. In May 2014 the electoral laws were changed to allow former officials in Ben Ali’s administration to run for office. Twenty former government leaders were recently released from prison, which sparked public outcry. Adding to the chaos last week fourteen soldiers were killed while pursuing AQIM Islamists embedded in the Chaambi Mountain region near the western border with Algeria.
Tag Archives | Arab-Israeli Conflict
In the war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation that existed before it started. To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Once and For All! To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, Once And For All!
Speaking bluntly in the past three weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has unequivocally ruled out a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a speech at Tel Aviv University on June 29, Netanyahu announced that any peace agreement would include Israeli military control of the West Bank “for a very long time.” Netanyahu repeated himself on July 11, saying at a Hebrew language press conference, “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
There was a strong expectation in Israel yesterday once the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire terms were announced that Hamas was going to accept the deal. Even after Hamas rejected the terms and launched 80 more rockets at Israel yesterday morning, some prominent voices, such as former Israel national security adviser Giora Eiland, were predicting that Hamas would ultimately accept the deal today.
Bombs are raining on Gaza and rockets on Southern Israel, people are dying and homes are being destroyed. Again. Again without any purpose. Again with the certainty that after it’s all over, everything will essentially be the same as it was before. But I can hardly hear the sirens which warn of rockets coming towards Tel Aviv. I cannot take my mind off the awful thing that happened in Jerusalem.
The Arab world is in turmoil. Syria and Iraq are breaking apart, the thousand-year old conflict between Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites is reaching a new climax. A historic drama is unfolding around us. And what is the reaction of our government? Benjamin Netanyahu put it succinctly: “We must defend Israel on the Jordan River, before they reach Tel Aviv.” Simple, concise, idiotic.
During his short visit to Israel, Pope Francis laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl. That was not a usual gesture. Foreign heads of state are obliged to visit Yad Vashem, as did the pope, but not the grave of Herzl. It is not like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.
So why Herzl’s grave? Obviously, this gesture was intended to emphasize the Zionist character of the state.
Today is Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day fraught with the worst types of historical memory for many Jews around the world.
In a reversal of Abba Eban’s famous witticism about the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has seized the opportunity presented by the day to dub the Holocaust the most heinous crime in modern history, which is significant given his extensive history of Holocaust denial, most prominently in his doctoral dissertation. In the past, Abbas has written that fewer than one million Jews were killed by the Nazis and that the Holocaust was enabled by the Zionists, who plotted with the Nazis to exterminate European Jewry in order to encourage Jewish immigration to Palestine. The New York Times portrays Abbas’s new statement as a significant shift in his thinking, while Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet argues that Abbas has not actually said anything to indicate that his views have changed, as Abbas can simultaneously believe that the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern history and that Zionist Jews were themselves responsible for it.
Whatever one’s views are of Abbas’s latest statement and whether it is indeed an evolution or simply artful obfuscation, the big takeaway is that Abbas’s take on the Holocaust is being widely interpreted through the prism of the peace process. For optimists – in what can only be termed as the soft bigotry of low expectations – Abbas’s willingness to condemn the Holocaust is a signal that he is a true partner for peace. For pessimists – in what can only be termed as shifting the goalposts – Abbas’s condemnation of the Holocaust no longer matters because he has agreed to a reconciliation deal with Hamas, which certainly does not recognize or acknowledge the singular evil of the Holocaust. Bibi Netanyahu, for instance, yesterday explicitly used Abbas’s pact with Hamas to negate his Holocaust declaration, and dismissed the entire thing as a public relations stunt.
Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble. 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.”
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.
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.
Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”
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.
“In hindsight, I never actually gave a real damn about Palestine, I was just obsessed with hating Israel.” – Kasim Hafeez
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.
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.
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.
In early December, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
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.
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?”
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.