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Palestinians

Tag Archives | Palestinians

How the Middle East Peace Process went ‘Poof’

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State Dept. Photo
State Dept. Photo

State Dept. Photo

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.”

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Syria’s Civil War, Assad and the Palestinians

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Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

The three-year old Syrian crisis presents dire dilemmas for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in refugee camps across the Middle East.

Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

Given Syria’s traditional role as a sponsor of Palestinian resistance movements and a home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, Palestinian leaders are understandably torn between loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies. Palestinians have fought in Syria on behalf of both the regime and the rebels. The conflict has deepened ideological and political wedges between Palestinians and complicated their patchwork of international alliances. Moreover, as various proxy battles are waged within Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, the Palestinian refugees there are now enduring an underreported humanitarian crisis.

Syria’s Role in the Palestinian Resistance

Historical bonds between Palestinian resistance movements, refugees, and the Syrian government have complicated Palestinian attitudes toward the grinding civil war in Syria. In 1948, 90,000 Palestinians fled to Syria as refugees. Since then, several hundred thousand more have arrived and settled in large refugee camps, such as Yarmouk in Damascus.

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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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A Kuffiya for Tony Benn, the British Warrior Who ‘Matured with Age’

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Tony Benn

Long before the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign inched slowly from the fringes of global solidarity with Palestinians to take center stage, Tony Benn had been advocating a boycott of Israel with unrestricted conviction, for years.

Tony Benn

“Britain should offer its support for this strategy by stopping all arms sales to Israel, introducing trade sanctions and a ban on all investment there together with a boycott of Israeli goods here and make it a condition for the lifting of these measures that Israel complies with these demands at once,” Benn wrote in his blog on April 19, 2002, under the title “A STATE OF PALESTINE NOW.” The ‘strategy’ of which Ben spoke was for Arafat to declare a state, and for ‘friendly nations’ to recognize it.

Yes, the title was all in caps. It was as if Benn, a principled British left wing politician, had wanted to loudly accentuate his insistence that the Palestinian people deserved their rights, freedom and sovereignty. He was as bold and courageous as any man or woman of true values and principles should always be. He remained uncompromising in matters of human rights and justice. This international warrior left a challenging space to fill when he passed away at the age of 88, on Thursday, March 13.

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In Spite of Turmoil, Egypt and Israel have Maintained Bilateral Relations

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Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel.  Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

With Al Qaeda’s presence growing in the Sinai, Egypt and Israel have stepped up joint bilateral security cooperation to deal with the threat.

Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel. Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

Amidst the turmoil that has ensued throughout post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Qaeda (AQ) has established a stronghold in the Sinai from where jihadists routinely target Egypt and Israel. In turn, Egyptian and Israeli security forces have increased cooperation to address the Sinai’s security challenges, underscoring that the bilateral relationship remains intact. While in the longer term the direction of bilateral relations remains uncertain, in the near term Al Qaeda’s actions have strengthened security ties between Egypt and Israel. Al Qaeda’s actions in the Sinai and Levant have also served to enhance the likelihood that other governments in the region, such as Jordan and Turkey, will continue to cooperate with Israel on security–related issues.

An ‘Islamic Emirate’ between Egypt and Israel

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1982, the Sinai has proven to be Egypt’s most ungovernable territory. The Mahahith Amn al-Dawla (MAD) — the highest internal security authority in Egypt — was responsible for ensuring law and order in the restive Sinai and cracking down on underground Islamist movements. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the MAD prevented Islamist militants from successfully launching more than only a few attacks across the Egyptian-Israeli border. However, Mubarak’s fall led to the MAD’s dissolution, raising question about the Egyptian government’s capacity to effectively combat militant jihadist forces.

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Kasims for Qassams: Interview with Kasim Hafeez

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Stand With Us
Stand With Us

Stand With Us

“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.

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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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Saudi Arabia’s Rise in the Middle East Comes at a Cost

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Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces

Saudi Arabian interest in the Middle East is primarily focused on Iran.

Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces

Saudi leadership has stated that the Gulf Cooperation Council may acquire a nuclear deterrent should Iran acquire one. They are suggesting, however, a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) as a way to pressure Iran and also Israel to give up nuclear weapons and rely on the umbrella security provided by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, despite their reservations over the Council’s treatment of the Palestinians. The U.S. deal with Iran will shape the Iranian nuclear narrative, but if things start to fall apart, Saudi Arabia may press forward quickly to acquire a GCC bomb.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it will provide Lebanon with $3 billion dollars in military aid to support the Lebanese Armed Forces should not be seen as a surprise, given that it is intended to counter Iranian influence in the region. What is more significant is how it serves to emphasize the current and developing fissure between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi leadership’s willingness to adopt an independent approach to regional relations. Saudi Arabia has been vocal about its view of America’s inadequacy in dealing with Iran and Syria and is now implementing its own plan.

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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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Self-Boycott

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President Barack Obama speaks at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, Dec. 10, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

Can a country boycott itself? That may sound like a silly question. It is not. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the “Giant of History” as Barack Obama called him, Israel was not represented by any of its leaders.

President Barack Obama speaks at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, Dec. 10, 2013. Chuck Kennedy/White House

The only dignitary who agreed to go was the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, a nice person, an immigrant from the Soviet Union and a settler, who is so anonymous that most Israelis would not recognize him. (“His own father would have trouble recognizing him in the street,” somebody joked.)

Why? The President of the State, Shimon Peres, caught a malady that prevented him from going, but which did not prevent him from making a speech and receiving visitors on the same day. Well, there are all kinds of mysterious microbes.

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Is Gaza Paying the Price for Geneva’s Iran Deal?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Source: Israeli Government

A series of lightning quick political reactions in the Middle East have followed the recent Geneva talks concerning Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Israeli Government

In a recent report by Ethnographic Edge, we find that Palestine seem to be the first to react, as Israel lashes out against the US and a deal it perceives as an “historical mistake.” The Gulf News reports that just two weeks after US pressure convinced Israel to cancel plans to initiate the biggest ever colony-building project, Tel Aviv announced on Sunday its decision to go ahead with the plan anyway, and build 829 new colony homes in the West Bank.

Given Israel’s frustration with the outcome of the recent round of Iran nuclear talks, it appears that Palestine may present an alternative issue through which Israel can reassert its strategic initiative. In addition, the Iran deal has strained Israel-US relations to the point that it is becoming difficult for Washington to exert pressure on Israel on the Palestinian issue. Israel’s settlement expansion into Palestinian territory is a clear reflection of this.

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The Assassination of Yasser Arafat

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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the South Lawn of the White House.  Source: Clinton Library

From the first moment, I did not have the slightest doubt that Yasser Arafat was assassinated.  It was a matter of simple logic.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Bill Clinton and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the South Lawn of the White House. Source: Clinton Library

On the way back from the funeral, I happened upon Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Knesset for the nationalist Arab Balad party, who is a highly qualified doctoral pharmacist. We exchanged views and came to the same conclusion.  The findings of the Swiss experts last week only confirmed my conviction.

First of all, a simple fact: people don’t just die for no reason.  I visited Arafat a few weeks before it happened. He seemed in reasonably good health. Upon leaving, I remarked to Rachel, my wife, that he seemed more sharp and alert than during our last visit.  When he suddenly became very ill, there was no obvious cause. The doctors at the French military hospital, to which he was transferred at the insistence of Suha, his wife, and where he died, conducted a thorough examination of his body. They found no explanation for his condition. Nothing.  That by itself was very strange. Arafat was the leader of his people, the de facto head of a state, and one can be sure that the French doctors left no stone unturned to diagnose the case.

That left only radiation or poison. Why was no poison detected at the autopsy? The answer is simple: in order to detect a poison, one must know what one is looking for. The list of poisons it almost unlimited, and the routine search is restricted to a small number.  Arafat’s body was not examined for radioactive polonium.  Who had the opportunity to administer the poison?  Well, practically anybody.  During my many visits with him, I always wondered at the lax security precautions.

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Is the U.S. Losing Saudi Arabia to China?

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China's Hu Jintao with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah

Saudi Arabia’s declared intention to pivot away from the U.S. in foreign policy implies a shift toward Beijing, which predates both the Obama presidency and the Arab Awakening.

China’s Hu Jintao with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah

While a full-fledged “divorce” from the U.S. appears highly unlikely at this juncture, there is genuine cause for concern in Washington. The Saudi government’s decision has potentially profound implications regionally, as cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. has been a hallmark of the Middle East’s political landscape for the past 80 years. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have maintained a strategic partnership since World War II based on a common understanding — Saudi Arabia provides the U.S. with oil and the U.S. in turn provides a security umbrella to the Kingdom. The two have for many years also shared mutual interest in containing Communism and Arab nationalism, which has led to many joint U.S.-Saudi campaigns throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Washington and Riyadh’s shared objective of countering the influence of post-revolutionary Iran has also served to strengthen their ties.

Part of what is at issue here is a simmering, lingering tension between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The U.S. has beaten the ‘democracy’ drum in the Middle East for decades, particularly since 9/11, which has not sat well with the distinctly undemocratic Saudi polity. The fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudi nationals prompted greater scrutiny in Washington about the nature of the bilateral relationship, as have questions about human rights in the Kingdom since that time. Saudi officials view U.S. hegemony in the post-Cold War era as having a destabilizing impact on the Middle East. Saudi Arabia sees itself as paying a price for reckless and poorly executed U.S. foreign policy, with the U.S., for example, having refused to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians (consistent with the Saudi Initiative of 2002) and having toppled Saddam Hussein against Riyadh’s advice.

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Japan’s Growing Influence in the Middle East

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An employee of the Kuwait Oil Company at the al-Rawdatain field, 100 kms north of Kuwait City

Despite the absence of cultural, historical or religious bonds, Japan and the Middle East have become indispensable geostrategic partners. Japan is resource-poor and a leading importer of natural gas and oil. Japanese-Middle Eastern relations have historically revolved around that dynamic.

An employee of the Kuwait Oil Company at the al-Rawdatain field, 100 kms north of Kuwait City

Tokyo’s Middle Eastern foreign policy, which has been traditionally passive, has recently shifted toward a more activist role with the objective of protecting Japan’s energy interests in the region. Given that Japan imports more than 80% of its crude oil from the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran, stability in the Middle East is of great interest and concern to Japan.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster prompted the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors, and no timetable has been announced for restarting any of them. As a result, the average Japanese household’s electricity bill has risen by 30%, and the nation’s trade deficit has reached record high levels. Japan has therefore become increasingly reliant on the Persian Gulf’s liquefied natural gas (LNG). Given that Qatar is the world’s leading supplier of LNG, and Japan is Qatar’s top export partner (and the world’s leading LNG importer), Tokyo and Doha have become increasingly valuable toward one another. Much meaning was therefore attributed to Prime Minister Abe’s six-day trip to the Middle East in August this year - his second to the region since being reelected in 2012.

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