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Camp David Accords

Tag Archives | Camp David Accords

Time to Talk Camp David: Will New Egypt Meet Old Expectations?

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Mohammed Morsi rally at Tahrir Square. Bora S. Kamel/Flickr

Despite early assurances by Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi regarding his “commitment to international treaties and agreements,” one can already foretell a likely confrontation between Egypt and Israel. A chaotic transition notwithstanding, a new, post-revolution Egypt is emerging. It is is more self-assertive, emphasizing issues of national dignity and respect. In fact, the word ‘Karama’ - dignity in Arabic - is now paramount in the budding discourse. The key to understanding post-January 2011 Egypt is to appreciate the inferred but real transformation of the collective psyche or Egyptian society, one that is unequivocally challenging the denigrating stereotype of Egyptians as docile and submissive.

This would mean that neither President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, the liberals nor even the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) could steer Egypt in the sole direction of their own interests. Thus Morsi’s words in Tahrir Square on June 29 were by no means detached from a parallel reality of heightened expectations. In fact, no matter how fervent and ardently clear in his rhetoric, Morsi could barely keep up with what the chanting millions expected of him. He said, “I will endeavor to regain Egypt’s free will in its foreign relations. I will abolish all meanings of subordination to any power whatsoever. Egypt is free in all its actions and discourses.”

True, Morsi did state that Egypt would honor its international commitments, as it most likely will, and insinuated that Camp David is one of these. But the peace treaty with Israel is no ordinary ‘commitment’.

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A Post ‘Arab Spring’ Palestine

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President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo: Olivier Pacteau

President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo: Olivier Pacteau

Will the Arab Spring serve the cause of Palestine?” is a question that has been repeatedly asked, in various ways, over the last year and a half. Many media discussions have been formulated around this very inquiry, although the answer is far from a simple “yes” or “no.” Why should the question be asked in the first place? Hasn’t the Arab link to the Palestinian struggle been consistently strong, regardless of the prevalent form of government in any single Arab country? Rhetorically, at least, the Arab bond to Palestine remained incessantly strong at every significant historical turn.

True, disparity between rhetoric and reality are as old as the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the relatively small divide between words and actions widened enormously following the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, which cemented US-Israeli ties like never before.

The war brought an end to the dilemma of independent Palestinian action. It shifted the focus to the West Bank and Gaza, and allowed the still dominant Fatah party to fortify its position in light of Arab defeat and subsequent division. The division was highlighted most starkly in the August 1967 Khartoum summit in Sudan, where Arab leaders clashed over priorities and definitions. Should Israel’s territorial gains redefine the status quo? Should Arabs focus on returning to a pre-1948 or pre-1967 situation?

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Whose Egypt?

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Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

After a tantalizing delay, Egypt’s military authorities accepted the inevitable when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared president a week ago and took the oath of office on June 30th. A development of such magnitude was unthinkable before Hosni Mubarak surrendered power to the military in February 2011 amid a massive popular uprising against his regime. For nearly 60 years since the 1952 Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the main source of opposition to the ruling establishment. The prospect of the Brotherhood’s candidate being allowed to stand, let alone freely campaign, for the presidency had looked remote.

That the Islamist movement has survived despite long state repression, and its own internal conflicts, will be seen as a remarkable feat. Since the Brotherhood’s founding by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, its anti-Western ideology and commitment to an Islamist order as a remedy to the “ills” of colonialism and imperialism have made the movement an object of admiration as well as fear in much of the Muslim world. The organization has transformed itself many a time and promises to work by peaceful means. Even so, its activities, and those of its breakaway factions, have generated profound distrust among many secular and Western-oriented people in the Arab world and beyond.

Morsi’s victory comes in controversial circumstances. Sections of Egypt’s educated middle classes are far from happy. Leading secular and liberal candidates were eliminated, even though together they had gained more than forty percent of the vote in the first round. It meant that Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a prominent figure from the Mubarak era, entered the final round representing opposite poles. Shafiq was initially disqualified as a candidate, but was quickly reinstated. The Egyptian armed forces apparently did not want to let go after the fall of Mubarak from the presidency.

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The Arab Spring and the Image of Islam

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Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Vince Millett

Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Vince Millett

Based on lecture at the Advanced Studies Research Center, Brussels, Belgium.

The multi-season Arab Spring is the third anti-imperialist Arab revolt in less than a century: against the Ottoman empire, against the Western Italian–French–English empire, and now the US-Israel empire. The empires hit back. The Ottomans were weak, but England–France–Israel even invaded Egypt in 29 October 1956––in the shadow of the Hungarian revolt against the Soviet empire that crumbled nearly a quarter century later. And now it is the turn of USA–Israel to try to maintain an illegitimate structure.

So much for the background. In the foreground is class, pitting the powerless at the bottom against the powerful at the top. Wealth flows upward, accelerated by corruption; military, police and secret police forces protect the top against revolts; decision-making is by dictatorships; all of this that used to be justified by the fight against communism is now hitched on to fight against Islamism.  Needless to say, we can have corrupt, brutal dictatorships in Arab countries without any imperial backing. Like in former colonies––Libya, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria––where borders were drawn regardless of inner and outer fault-lines. The architects thought that by sheer force they could contain such “indigenous tribal” conflicts. Their successors followed in their tracks, with dictatorship and force. But less so in Egypt and Tunisia: they were old, established countries.

But imperialism, as opposed to naked force, works through local elites that can do whatever they want to their people as long as they serve the imperial interests. The Ottoman empire was run from Istanbul; the Western empire was partly based on monarchs that were deposed. The US–Israel empire is based on more ordinary corruptible, brutal dictators.

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Arab Spring, Israeli Isolation

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President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

With the Arab uprisings gradually reconfiguring the regional political landscape, Israel is finding itself increasingly isolated. For at least a decade, Israel has identified Iran as its main strategic nemesis, but the Arab spring has rekindled simmering tensions between Israel on one hand, and Arab states as well as Turkey on the other.

President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

The ongoing conflict within Syria could also jeopardize the implicit modus vivendi between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israel, paving the way for a potential conflict in the future. The whole Arab landscape has actually shifted: the Hezbollah faction is playing a central role in Lebanese politics; the Egyptian public is demanding a reassessment of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty; and the Jordanian government is facing growing domestic political pressure. Israel is grappling with a totally new emerging regional order. Meanwhile, Iran has continued with its nuclear enrichment, meanwhile enhancing its ballistic missile capabilities. Palestine, bolstered by growing international support, is pushing for statehood, circumventing the Israeli-dictated “peace process.”

Domestically, large demonstrations have shaken major Israeli cities, as people across the political and economic spectrum demand crucial economic and social reforms. There are also growing signs of splits within the Israeli bureaucracy over plans to attack Iran. Therefore, unless the Netanyahu administration makes necessary changes in its policies, the country might emerge as the biggest loser of the Arab uprisings. This is the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to redeem itself by pressuring Israel to make necessary compromises, re-evaluate its inhumane policies toward Gaza, and make necessary reforms before it’s too late. The clock is ticking fast.

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On Timing and Political Leadership

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Winston Churchill with FDR at the White House in the 1940s

“Men at some time are masters of their fates.” – Julius Caesar

Winston Churchill with FDR at the White House in the 1940s

Amid the worsening economic picture, political leaders across the globe are under attack for their lack of leadership and failure to inspire confidence in their constituencies in the face of mounting global problems. President Obama especially has been criticized as too aloof and lacking direction, particularly from rightwing commentators. During the recent CNN Tea Party debate, Mitt Romney stated that, if elected president, he would have a bust of Winston Churchill in the White House. The message Mitt Romney attempted to send was clear: strong political leadership could overcome even the most severe political crisis, and that he, Romney, would follow in Churchill’s footsteps. We often forget, however, that it not only takes charisma and extraordinary ability to inspire greatness in a leader, but more importantly, the right timing.

References to Winston Churchill are nothing new. Every U.S. President post-1945 is bound to be compared to him. Churchill, however, did not do very well during peace times. A great wartime leader, Churchill pursued a disastrous anti-independence policy vis-à-vis India in the 1930s and had an insignificant second premiership in the 1950s—not to mention his mediocre term as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s. Nevertheless, Winston Churchill is considered the greatest Briton of the 20th century. He became Prime Minister in June 1940, when Britain alone stood defiant against the Nazi war machine, and in the words of Isaiah Berlin, mobilized the English language for war. He was the right man in the right spot at the right time.

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The Futile Undertaking of Palestinian Statehood

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President Barack Obama chairs a United Nations Security Council meeting at U.N. Headquarters in New York, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

Today, September 23, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas submits to the UN the application for Palestinian statehood for the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. What are the implications of this effort? Does it serve the Palestinian cause? And why do Israel and the U.S. oppose this action? What’s the alternative?

President Barack Obama chairs a United Nations Security Council meeting at U.N. Headquarters in New York, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

Paradoxically, this month marks the eighteenth anniversary of when Abbas stood alongside Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in a ceremony celebrating the signing of the Oslo Accords. As one of its architects, Abbas sold the Oslo agreement to the Palestinian people as the vehicle towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people.

But throughout the past two decades lofty promises were offered to the Palestinians, while endless negotiations across continents took place between Israel and the PA, which Abbas has headed since the death of Arafat in 2004: Madrid (1991), Oslo (1993), Wye River (1997), Camp David (2000), Taba (2001), Quartet’s road map (2002), Annapolis (2007), bilateral negotiations (2008), Obama’s promises for settlements freeze in Cairo (2009) and declaration of statehood within one year at the UN (2010).

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Another ‘Symbolic Victory’: Abbas’ New Political Gambit

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN Security Council. Jenny Rockett/UN

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to go to the United Nations to request the admission of Palestine as a full member, he appeared to have had an epiphany.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN Security Council. Jenny Rockett/UN

Had he finally realized that for the past two decades he and his party, Fatah, have gone down a road to nowhere? That Israel was only interested in him as a conduit to achieve its colonial endeavor in the remaining 22 percent of historical Palestine? That his national project – predicated on the ever elusive ‘peace process’ – achieved neither peace nor justice?

Abbas claims to be serious this time. Despite all US attempts at intimidation (for example, by threatening to withhold funds), and despite the intensifying of Israeli tactics (including the further arming of illegal Jewish settlers to combat possible Palestinian mobilization in the West Bank), Abbas simply could not be persuaded against seeking a UN membership this September. “We are going to the Security Council. We need to have full membership in the United Nations…we need a state, and we need a seat at the UN,” Abbas told Palestinians in a televised speech on September 16.

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Confused Strategy: How the PA Sold Out Palestinian Unity

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Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. Photo: Ridvan Yumla

If you happen to be a Palestinian government employee, chances are you will receive only half your usual salary this month. The other half will only be available when international donors find it in their hearts to make up for the huge shortage of funds currently facing the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. Photo: Ridvan Yumla

With a deficit standing at around $640 million, the Palestinian Authority government of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is experiencing one of its worst ever financial crises. However, the Palestinian economy is not a real economy by universally recognized standards. It survives largely on handouts by donor countries. These funds have spared Israel much of its financial responsibility as an occupying power under the stipulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They have also propped up a Palestinian leadership that tries to secure its own survival by serving the interests of major donors.

The funds, however, are now drying up. This could be due to a political attempt to dissuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from seeking recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN next September. Palestinian Authority officials have been greatly angered by the shift, blaming donor countries – including Arab countries – for failing to honor their financial commitments.

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