Thursday, 13 December 2018

Peace in Yemen: the first steps



                                                                                             Video version
          Within ten months of his appointment as UN Special Envoy for Yemen, British born Martin Griffiths has succeeded in what has for years been regarded as the near-impossible – bringing the two main protagonists in the Yemen conflict to the negotiating table.

          Griffiths is supremely well-qualified for his unenviable task. Born in 1951, he is a qualified barrister and also holds a master’s degree from London University’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). He came to the post with extensive experience of conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and humanitarian affairs from a long career in international humanitarian organizations. Having also worked in the UK’s foreign service, it is perhaps that British diplomatic touch that has served him so well.

          The talks, held in Rimbo, Sweden, were a question of “second time lucky” for Griffiths. An attempt to sponsor negotiations in Geneva in September 2018 had foundered when the Houthis sought to trade their attendance against safe passage for some of their wounded soldiers. With such issues set aside, delegations from the internationally recognized government of President Abd-RabbuMansour Hadi and from the Iran-supported Houthi rebels actually sat down on 6 December 2018, facing each other across tables arranged in an open square.

          The atmosphere was far from hostile. Both sides appreciated the humanitarian disaster that had overtaken Yemen’s civilian population as a result of the conflict, and seemed willing to compromise on at least some of the key issues. 

          Griffiths described Hodeida – the port through which most of Yemen’s food supplies and aid were shipped – as the center of gravity for the war. He proposed that the port, as opposed to the city, should be brought under UN supervision, with the Houthis and the Yemen government cooperating with the arrangement. He also pressed for agreement on a package of measures, including an end to the Saudi air blockade of Sanaa airport, a mass prisoner release programme, and economic reforms designed to shore up the Yemeni currency.

          Of the main issues on the table, the prisoner exchange programme seems nearest to success. Word from within the talks indicated that as many as 6,000 prisoners could be exchanged in the coming months. The Houthis were expected to release several high-ranking commanders within the Yemeni army, including the former minister of defence, General Mahmoud Al Subaihi, and relatives of President Hadi.

          Mohammed Askar, Yemen's minister for human rights, is reported as saying: "the agreement included all detainees who were captured by the Houthis since the war erupted.” Mohammed al-Amiri, an adviser to the president, said the sides were discussing "operational mechanisms that would determine the date and place of the release."

          While the opposing sides appeared to be edging closer to securing a deal on prisoners, the fate of Sanaa international airport and Hodeida port remained for resolution. The Houthis said they were prepared to hand over the port to the UN, but only if the Saudi-UAE coalition stops its air strikes. In the breakthrough agreement, reached on 13 December, both sides agreed to a ceasefire both in Hodeida and in the wider province, to be backed by UN troops.



Yemen’s foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani (left) and head rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam (right) shake hands under the eyes of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, during talks in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, on December 13 

          Hamza al-Kamali, a member of the Yemeni government delegation, said that talks were also focusing on easing the siege in Taiz. More than 200,000 civilians have been caught up by fighting in Taiz, a city some 200 km south of the capital, Sanaa, that has become one of the major front lines in the battle for control of Yemen.

          "If we're able to achieve something positive,” said Kamali, “we will also be looking at when to hold the next round of negotiations."   In the event a "mutual understanding" was also struck on Taiz.  And indeed Griffiths is planning to hold a further round of talks in the new year aimed at making progress on a long-term political settlement to end the four-year-long civil war. 


           The basis must be UN Resolution 2216, which aims to establish democracy in a federally united Yemen.  This new effort will have to be backed by a UN peace-keeping force. Through whatever means would be most effective – new sanctions if necessary – Iran must be prevented from assisting the Houthis and supplying them with military hardware. Humanitarian aid must be given unfettered access to all parts of Yemen. A lasting political deal would of course involve the end of the Saudi-led military operation, and probably a major financial commitment by Saudi Arabia to fund the rebuilding of the country.

          Finally the Houthis must be given the opportunity to choose. Do they wish to remain an outlawed militia permanently, or would they prefer to become a legitimate political party, able to contest parliamentary and presidential elections and participate in government? The price would be serious engagement in negotiations aimed at a peaceful transition to a political solution for a united Yemen.

          On 11 December, the fifth day of the talks, Griffiths held a press conference reporting progress on a number of issues and promising that tangible agreements will be announced by the end of the round. The exact date and venue of the next round of consultations, he said, are being discussed with the two parties but will probably take place early next year.


       “Hope is the currency of the mediator;” he declared. “If you do not provide a sense of optimism and hope for the parties, you will not encourage people to walk the extra mile.”

          Griffiths certainly seems to be making progress.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Lebanon's Sunni tangle


                                                                                    Video version
          As if the discovery of sophisticated Hezbollah tunnels penetrating into Israel and violating the UN truce terms was not enough of an embarrassment to the Lebanese government, the political situation is deadlocked as well.  Hezbollah is also at the centre of that débacle.    

          Lebanon went to the polls on 6 May, 2018. Seven months later, the political parties are at deadlock over forming a new government.

          Nine long years had passed since the previous parliamentary elections which, according to the constitution, were supposed to be held every four years. But there were no elections in 2014, and ever since ministers and politicians have voted again and again to postpone elections and extend the current parliament, citing security concerns, political crises and disputes over the election law.

          When the new poll was finally held, the political landscape within Lebanon and in the region had changed dramatically. The intervening period had seen both the rise and the battlefield defeat of Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq and Syria, a dramatic extension of Iranian power in both countries, the direct involvement of Hezbollah military forces – ­composed, be it remembered, of young Lebanese fighters – in the civil conflict in Syria, acting under direct Iranian command, and a huge build-up of sophisticated Iranian weaponry in Lebanon itself, together with the development of arms manufacturing facilities on a massive scale.

          Moreover, the previous pro-Western, Saudi-backed political alliance led by prime minister Saad Hariri, was crumbling. Over the nine years from 2009 Hariri’s government had included members of the increasingly confident, Iran-backed Hezbollah – one obvious sign of Iran extending its power base into Lebanon by way of its subsidiary. This was a dangerous development that Saudi Arabia, leader of the Sunni world, was determined to nip in the bud. 

          In November 2017, urged on, it is surmised, by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Hariri travelled to Riyadh, and from the Saudi capital he resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister, incorporating a resounding denunciation of Hezbollah and Iran in his announcement.

          The resultant political storm could not be contained. He stayed abroad for two weeks, then travelled back to Lebanon where he withdrew his resignation, and resumed his office. But all was far from well. Hariri could never be reconciled to the increasingly dominant position that Hezbollah was assuming within the Lebanese body politic. Regardless of his political objections, his personal reasons are overwhelming.

          On February 14, 2005, his father, Rafik Hariri, one-time prime minister and a powerful opponent of Syrian and Hezbollah dominance in Lebanon, was assassinated. The subsequent judicial proceedings, which are still ongoing after 13 years, have pretty well established that the murder was ordered by Bashar al Assad, Syria’s president, and carried out by Hezbollah operatives. So Saad Hariri had business left unfinished by his father to complete. There is no doubt that Rafik would have been appalled by the extent to which Iran has gained control over Lebanon’s military power, and is using the country as a manufacturing base from which to arm the Shi’ite crescent that it is consolidating. For Iran is building and equipping a Shi’ite empire extending from Yemen, via Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Syria and through to Lebanon.

          There are well-founded reports that Iran has established facilities, managed and operated by Hezbollah, for manufacturing missiles and other weapons in Lebanon. The weaponry includes surface-to-surface and surface-to-sea missiles, torpedoes, spy drones, anti-tank missiles, and fast armoured boats. There are reports of at least two underground facilities constructed in Lebanon for manufacturing missiles and other weaponry including the Fateh 110, a medium-range missile with a range of approximately 300 kilometers − enough to cover most of Israel − and capable of carrying a half-ton warhead.

          The May parliamentary elections, which employed a proportional representation system for the first time, saw the collapse of Hariri’s Future Movement (FM) and the continued growth of Hezbollah. The FM lost 13 seats while Hezbollah gained three. But the biggest winner was the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies, led by Gebran Bassil, which emerged as the largest bloc with 29 members. Bassil, the son-in-law of Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun, was criticized by many Lebanese politicians for a media interview in December 2017 in which he stated that Lebanon does not have an ideological problem with Israel, and that he was not against Israel "living in security.”

          Seven months after the elections, however, talks about the formation of a new government in Lebanon remain at an impasse. The complex sectarian rules governing Lebanon’s constitution mean that Hariri remains prime minister designate, because that office is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and Bassil, a Maronite Christian, is debarred from filling it. But at the heart of the disagreement between the various political factions is how much power Hezbollah should exercise.

          Hezbollah is, of course, a Shia Muslim organization, but in the complex Lebanese political world it actually supports some smaller Sunni political groups. A particular bone of contention in the discussions is whether these Sunni bodies should be included along with Hezbollah in the formation of the new government. In particular Hezbollah has been demanding that one of its Sunni allies be awarded a ministerial seat in the Cabinet. If granted, this which would come out of the prime minister’s share of Sunni seats, and Hariri rejects the proposal outright.

          This is the so-called “Sunni tangle”. If past experience is anything to go by, unravelling it could take not months, but years.


Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 December 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/10122018-lebanons-sunni-tangle-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 9 December 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/12/09/lebanons-sunni-tangle/

Saturday, 1 December 2018

All quiet on the Gaza front?

                                                                                  Video version
On 16 November 2018 Israel entered into a ceasefire arrangement with the de facto rulers of the Gaza strip – Hamas. It seems to be holding.

Nothing is more surprising than that calm should have descended on Gaza at this particular moment. For on Sunday evening, 11 November, a vehicle containing Israeli soldiers sped across the border into Gaza. In the warren of back streets in Khan Younis, a town in the south of the Gaza strip, it was challenged at a checkpoint, and an armed conflict ensued. According to some media reports the Israeli team were members of the élite Maglan unit, which specializes in slipping behind enemy lines to collect intelligence or destroy targets.

The exact sequence of events is unclear, but early on an Israeli lieutenant colonel was shot dead, and before too long seven Palestinians, including Nour Barakah, the Hamas commander for Khan Younis, had also been killed. The Israeli soldiers were extracted by helicopters of the Air Force’s Unit 669, taking with them the dead officer – reportedly a member of Israel’s Druze community – and an injured comrade.

The day after the botched operation Hamas fired more than 450 rockets and mortar shells at Israel. Israel responded with heavy airstrikes during which 14 Palestinians were killed and about 35 wounded, some residential property was destroyed and the building occupied by the Al-Aqsa TV satellite station was demolished.

And yet, less than 48 hours later, an Israeli-Hamas truce had been agreed and was in operation.

It is obvious that agreements as delicate as this cannot be arranged overnight. They must be the result of weeks, if not months, of complex negotiation. Israel and Hamas were certainly parties to the deal, but other principal players were Egypt and the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov. Qatar’s financial support for the Hamas administration was undoubtedly a factor.

The ceasefire announcement set off celebrations in Gaza City with hundreds of Palestinians taking to the streets. The Hamas line was that the months of protest along the Gaza-Israel border had reduced Israel to begging for a ceasefire. and that this was a great victory. The claim came in response to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Hamas rulers “begged for a ceasefire and they know why.”

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, was reportedly furious, fearing that the deal would consolidate Hamas as the de facto government of Gaza, and negate his continuous efforts to re-establish PA control in the Strip. This would certainly be the outcome if other rumoured details of the agreement are correct, such as Hamas gaining access to a port of its own and a relaxation of Israel’s economic embargo.

Even more worrying for Abbas, the PA and its ruling Fatah faction was their growing suspicion that somehow the ceasefire is linked to US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan – reportedly cut and dried and only awaiting the opportune moment to be rolled out. Abbas rejected “the deal of the century”, as Trump has dubbed it, sight unseen, and also the US as an acceptable peace broker back in December 2017, in reaction to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Now he accused Hamas of being in “collusion” with Israel and the US administration to implement the plan which, the PA claims, is aimed at separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, dismissed the charge. “Linking these understandings to the ‘deal of the century’ is a lie,” he said, “spread and believed by some.”

Abbas must be feeling immensely frustrated by the events of the past few weeks. According to the Oslo Accords, the PLO is the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and the only party authorized to reach a truce with Israel. Yet he had been cut out of the negotiations that Israel, Egypt, the UN and Qatar have been conducting directly with Hamas. Moreover he was further marginalized when Qatar handed over $15 million in cash, enabling Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of its supporters. Abbas had severely reduced funding to Hamas, in an effort to regain some sort of control over the Strip. In response to the delivery of the money over his head, Abbas hinted that he was considering new sanctions. As a result Abbas is being perceived as the bad cop intent on punishing Gaza, while others are trying to end the crisis – a risky strategy which could result in his complete marginalization in future peace negotiations.

How firmly based is the Israeli-Hamas deal? It led to a political crisis inside Israel, exemplified by the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who represented the view that the ceasefire simply handed Hamas a breathing space in which to rearm in readiness for the next full-scale conflict. Netanyahu's critics accuse him of wanting to perpetuate the status quo, that is no war, no peace, and no resolution of the Palestine issue.

Other more sympathetic commentators believe that Netanyahu wanted a calm Gaza in order to pursue a weightier strategic policy. One arm of this, possibly related to the eventual unveiling of Trump’s peace plan, is to continue improving relations with a range of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Another is to foster better relations between Israel and the wider world. His own visit to the Sultan of Oman on 27 October, and the historic first-time visit to Israel of the President of Chad, Idriss Deby, on 23 November, are two recent examples (neither Oman nor Chad formally recognize Israel).

Peace is certainly better than conflict, but how long will the current preference of both Israel and Hamas for a cessation of hostilities outweigh their other long-term strategic objectives? Peace hangs in the balance on the Gaza front.




Published in the Eurasia Review, 29 November 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/29112018-all-quiet-on-the-gaza-front-oped/

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

A British Aliyah – is it likely?

This article appears in the edition of the "Jerusalem Report" dated 
                                           10 December 2018  

On 27 July 2018 the UK's three main Jewish newspapers published precisely the same leading article, warning that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would pose an "existential threat to Jewish life".

Some 25,000 of Israel’s nearly nine million citizens were born in the United Kingdom. This is not very many, but are they soon to be joined by a new wave of immigration from Britain such as Israel has witnessed in the past from mainland Europe, the Arab world, Russia, Ethiopia and France?

The question arises in the wake of a recent upsurge in the UK of anti-Semitic incidents in general, and the exposure of overt anti-Semitism within the Labour party, one of the nation’s two major political parties. A director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Yigal Palmor, said recently: "Aliyah has become a popular conversation theme among many British Jews.”

“It's a very sad state of affairs,” said Gideon Falter, chairman of the UK’s Campaign Against Antisemitism , “because we have all grown up here and for most us this is where our grandparents found refuge during the darkest days of humanity."

Ever since the Labour party, traditionally considered a natural home for British Jews, elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader in September 2015, it has been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the extent of anti-Semitism within its ranks.



Corbyn is an avowed Marxist and a long-time espouser of radical action in support of causes that he adjudges anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. That sets him at odds with centrist political opinion in Britain. When he became a member of parliament in 1983, the Labour party had just suffered its worst electoral defeat in fifty years. It had gone to the country on a radical socialist manifesto that was later dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”. Its new leader. Neil Kinnock, much more of a social democrat, came into office intent on modifying the hard-left policies that had been so decidedly rejected by the British public.

Jeremy Corbyn was having none of it. In dogged pursuit of ideals that many see as relics of the class war within the UK, and of the Cold War outside, he voted against his party in Parliament literally hundreds of times, both when they were in opposition, and when they returned to power under Tony Blair. He was, and remains, implacably opposed to the social democratic philosophy underpinning the politics of a large proportion of the Labour party.

Corbyn was voted into the leadership largely by radically-minded young people who flocked to join the party to rebel against the established approach to politics of both main parties. Like many of his supporters Corbyn subscribes to the left-wing philosophy of “intersectionality”, which regards victimhood as a unifying condition, binding together all who are oppressed, no matter from what cause. Victims of racial discrimination are at one with the sexually exploited or the economically oppressed. Left-wing thinking, impervious to the complexities of an issue that has defied decades of peace efforts, regards the Palestinians as victims of Zionist colonialism. Supporting all victims as a matter of principle must therefore logically encompass opposing Zionism and Israel – a position that slips all too easily into frank anti-Semitism.

This tendency had already infected the left wing of the Labour party when Corbyn became leader. One prominent member, Ken Livingstone, once London’s mayor, had exemplified it by hosting virulent anti-Semitic speakers, comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard, and linking Hitler to Zionism based on a highly questionable interpretation of Nazi efforts in the 1930s to expel Jews from Germany. Livingstone never acknowledged that this bizarre attempt to tar Zionism with a Nazi brush was anti-Semitic.

Early in 2016 public opposition to anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks, and to Ken Livingstone in particular, led to the Labour party suspending him (he later resigned his membership), and to Corbyn setting up an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism within the party.

Conducted by human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, the report – immediately dubbed a “whitewash” by many Labour voices, Jewish and non-Jewish – concluded that the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism, but that there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere". Very shortly afterwards Chakrabarti was elevated to the House of Lords, and is currently the Rt Hon Baroness Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General.

March 2018 saw Corbyn supporting a virulently anti-Semitic mural, reminiscent of the cartoons that used to appear in the notorious Nazi journal, Der Stȕrmer. Later, calling it "deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic", he said that he had not looked at it properly,

The summer that followed was a bad time for Corbyn.

In July Labour adopted a new code of conduct on anti-Semitism. Although based on the internationally recognized IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) guidelines, Labour’s version omitted four of its "examples of anti-Semitism" which dealt specifically with Israel. In brief Labour sought to establish that it was not anti-Semitic to accuse Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than to their home country; to claim that Israel's existence as a state was a racist endeavor; to require higher standards of behavior from Israel than from other nations; and to compare contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.

Labour’s truncated version was immediately condemned by Jewish leaders and Labour figures. A combined force of 68 UK rabbis, from across the spectrum of Jewish belief, wrote a joint letter urging Labour to adopt the IHRA guidelines in full. The UK's three main Jewish newspapers, in a unique gesture of solidarity, published on their front pages under the title “United We Stand” precisely the same leading article, warning that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would pose an "existential threat to Jewish life".

Although it rejected the criticism, Labour carried out a consultation and finally adopted the IHRA definition with all its examples. However the gesture was immediately devalued in an accompanying statement that "this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians". But of course the whole point of the IHRA guidelines is to constrain freedom of expression on Israel by respecting its definitions of anti-Semitism.

The committee’s statement was, however, milk-and-water compared with a much longer qualifying document that Corbyn had urged on it. A key passage read that it should not “be regarded as anti-Semitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist, because of their discriminatory impact.” In short Corbyn would have Israel regarded as having been born in sin, never really to be redeemed.

Corbyn faced criticism in August 2018 after a video emerged in which he said a group of British Zionists had "no sense of English irony". Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks branded the comments as highly offensive, and accused Corbyn of being an anti-Semite.

Soon the questionable persons and places to which his political beliefs had led him began to emerge in a series of highly disturbing incidents. He came under fire over his presence at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 in which he was pictured laying a wreath on the grave of a perpetrator of the 1972 Munich terror attack, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed. Condemned by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Corbyn said he had attended the event in Tunis as part of a wider event about the search for peace.



Responding to news stories about having hosted occasions which included representatives of Hezbollah and Hamas, whom he had called “friends”, Corbyn said: "In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologize for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused." So far no pictures of Corbyn sharing a platform with supporters of Israel have come to light.

Corbyn has been entirely consistent in decrying the evils of racism, with which he includes anti-Semitism, and has declared himself dedicated to rooting anti-Semitism out of the Labour party. He has been equally consistent in his support for the Palestinian cause, while also declaring himself in favor of a two-state solution. In the recent Labour party conference he declared, to the wild waving of Palestinian flags in the hall, that the next Labour government would immediately recognize the state of Palestine as a step towards achieving just that.

Over the three years 2015-2017 Britain’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, together with the YouGov market research company, conducted interviews with more than 10,000 British Jews. 80 percent said they believed that the Labour Party was harboring anti-Semites in its ranks; three-quarters said they felt that recent political events had resulted in increased hostility towards Jews, while almost a third said they have considered leaving the UK because of anti-Semitism. Given the events of 2018, opinion must certainly have hardened,.

“A lot of Jewish people are worrying about what the future might hold," said Dave Rich, head of policy for the UK’s Community Security Trust, recently.

Well it holds Brexit – Britain leaving the EU – the outcome of which is uncertain indeed. If Parliament fails to ratify the deal being negotiated between the UK and the EU, or if there is no deal, major political disruption will follow. One possible outcome could be a general election, and in that event a Labour victory is entirely possible. It is the prospect of a government led by Jeremy Corbyn, even more than the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, which weighs heaviest on the minds of Britain’s Jewish community.

In April Jewish journalist Miriam Shaviv wrote in the Jewish Chronicle about how she came to the "heartbreaking" realization that her "family's longterm future cannot be in the UK… Corbyn embodies the reason why Israel's existence is forever necessary, as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution and distress."

For their own sake it must be hoped that Britain’s Jews are not forced into Aliyah in order to flee persecution or distress. There are other more positive, hopeful and uplifting reasons for Jews to return to Zion.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

The two Irans

                                                                                     Video version
          The dynamics of the Iranian state make for an intriguing case study. Informed observers maintain that two strong internal forces are pursuing irreconcilable political objectives. On the one hand there is the reformist camp, concerned about the people’s welfare and willing to engage with the outside world. On the other, there is the “deep state”, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supported by the powerful IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps), dedicated to upholding and strengthening the Islamic Revolution. It is the deep state that has complete dominance over the country’s political affairs, and can exercise its will in defiance of any contract or agreement enacted between Iran’s government and other countries,

          For his own good reasons Khamenei facilitated the re-election in May 2017 of Hassan Rouhani as President for a second term in office. Rouhani drew a great deal of support from “progressives” within Iranian society, who believed he could – and would – carry through a program of economic development aimed at improving the standard of living for the nation as a whole.

          This belief was founded on the nuclear deal signed on 14 July 2015 between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. For years the Iranian economy had been crippled by severe sanctions imposed by the UN and the USA for violating directives laid on Iran regarding its nuclear program. With the grudging support of the Supreme Leader, Rouhani negotiated the deal under which a whole raft of sanctions were lifted, as a quid pro quo for Iran severely curtailing its nuclear development program. Incidentally, no sooner was the deal signed, than Khamenei issued a statement hedging on some of its terms. “Even after this deal,” he pronounced, “our policy toward the arrogant US will not change.”

          It is doubtful how high a priority Khamenei and the ruling Iranian élite placed on the economic wellbeing of the nation. The Supreme Leader had been fixated for a long time on a concept he dubbed “resistance economy” – an idea he introduced in 2011 in response to Western sanctions.

          Resistance economy lays down measures aimed at overcoming the economic pressure of sanctions, such as creating domestic versions of foreign products, increasing barter trade, and smuggling. The idea has re-emerged in Iranian official rhetoric following the wave of unrest that swept the country in late December 2017 and early January 2018.

          Khamanei himself, Iran’s religious bureaucracy, and leading IRGC officials were equivocal from the start about the negotiations leading to the nuclear deal with the West. They went along with it to win the lifting of sanctions, but once the sanctions were eased, assets unfrozen and substantial loans poured into Iran’s coffers, nothing was done to improve housing, education, public health, or transportation for the nation.

          In a recent report, Radio Farda – which broadcasts to Iran under the aegis of Radio Liberty – maintained that many Iranians subsist on the bare minimum while their rulers live lavishly. “Khamenei suggests that the nation should consume less,” ran the report, “while the government wastes the country’s resources.” It cites in particular the chronic embezzlement and financial corruption, and the petro dollars poured into financing the IRGC. Resources were lavished on proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, and supporting IRGC’s ballistic missile program. Millions more were given to terrorist factions such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

          Khamenei and his supporters reject the idea that the civil unrest, which continued well into 2018, was an expression of dissatisfaction with the regime itself, despite the clearest indications during the uprisings that this is what they were. They blame Iran’s economic problems on “foreign enemies” and Rouhani’s administration, which they accuse of neglecting the principles of resistance economy.

          The defenders of resistance economy are in fact isolationists. They oppose improved ties with the outside world, and are thus at total odds with one of the major concepts behind the nuclear deal – to restore Iran to the “family of nations”. Rouhani responded positively to this aspect of the deal, having recognized, together with his supporters, that the end result of resistance economy is to maintain the Iranian people in a permanent state of poverty and, for large numbers, misery.

          The high hopes placed in Rouhani by the progressive movement were shattered with the emergence of Donald Trump as US president. At total odds with his predecessor, President Obama, Trump was fundamentally opposed to the deal, withdrew from it step by step, and has re-imposed the lifted sanctions.

          Although Khamenei has asserted that the sanctions would make no difference to Iran’s economy – an assertion that may well prove correct, given the determination of the EU to circumvent them – Rouhani’s political position has been gravely weakened. His own support base feels frustrated, while the reformist movement has lost credibility among ordinary Iranians. The economic benefits they had hoped for never materialized. As for the Iranian establishment, they are now castigating Rouhani for the whole nuclear deal policy, and for placing any faith at all in the West.

          Strangely the two Irans have shifted places. Rouhani and the progressives, once favored by Washington, are now lobbying strongly against the US administration in the hope of a Democrat president in two years’ time.

          The Iranian regime, on the other hand, is delighted that eight nations have been exempted from Trump’s embargo on Iranian oil. The concession was allowed on the proviso that the income is placed in an escrow account usable only for food and other humanitarian imports. The élite might have used the petro dollars very differently, but the exemption frees up other sources of income for them to get their hands on.

         In addition, in the belief that every cloud has a silver lining, Khamenei hopes the re-imposed sanctions will provide a long spell of isolation that will give Iran the chance to strengthen its adherence to the fundamentalist Islamism that lies at the root of the Revolution.


Published in the MPC Journal, 20 November 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/11/20/the-two-irans/

Thursday, 8 November 2018

How fares Trump's peace plan?

                                                                             Video version
In mid-October 2018 rumours about Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan were flying around the Israeli media. On the 22nd one TV channel reported a conversation between Donald Trump and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, during which Trump had apparently said that he was prepared to “get tough” if necessary with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I gave Bibi a lot,” Trump was reported to have said, referring not only to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, but also to the vast sums transferred annually to Israel by way of American aid.

 Officials and commentators were quick to draw obvious implications from these remarks namely that the Trump peace plan embodied several elements that would probably prove distasteful to Netanyahu, and that they might require some painful concessions by Israel that could involve him in political difficulties at home.  It seemed equally clear that, once the plan was unrolled and all its details revealed, Trump was likely to give no ground in demanding that Israel accept it in full, however distasteful certain aspects might be.  He would expect this as part of the normal “give and take” of deal-making.  

In fact these latest rumours were by no means new.  Twice since the start of 2018 Trump has remarked that, in exchange for his actions on Jerusalem, Israel “would have to pay more” in any agreement with the Palestinians.  The rollout of his peace plan which, according to media reports, could have taken place from about June 2018, has been awaiting a suitably propitious moment.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September Trump said that he intended to reveal the peace plan before the end of 2018.  It is still not clear whether he intends to stick by that timetable.

Three main factors seemed to be holding up the rollout.  There is PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s flat rejection of the plan in advance, and without knowing its contents, because of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.  Abbas reinforced this position by declaring that the US was no longer acceptable as a peace broker. 

A second inhibitory factor has been the near-universal belief that the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), masterminded the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Ankara.  Saudi Arabia is the Arab state closest to America, and it was believed that the Trump peace team had been counting on widespread Arab endorsement, led by Saudi Arabia, to underpin the plan.

Finally, the US mid-term elections were looming, and Trump probably wanted them out of the way before making any move. 

The elections on 6 November, widely perceived as a popular vote on Trump’s administration, left him battered but unbowed.  The House of Representatives regained a Democrat majority, but the Republican hold on the Senate was strengthened.  With full Republican control of Congress no longer available, Trump will certainly find domestic legislation difficult to achieve in the next two years. He may well think it more congenial to turn his attention to foreign policy.
And indeed, on the day after the mid-terms, 7 November, reports appeared in the media indicating that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who is leading the operation,  was heavily engaged in preparing a detailed promotional campaign aimed at selling the peace plan to US political and public opinion, and to the world.  The launch would, of course, be headed by Trump himself, but Kushner would then serve as the public face of the peace effort. 

If in unveiling the peace plan the US is prepared to discount the tarnished image of Saudi Arabia in general, and MBS in particular, one major factor in gaining impetus for it will certainly be Israel’s improving relations with a range of other Arab nations.  Towards the end of October Netanyahu and his wife made a surprise, eight-hour visit to Oman to meet the Sultan the first of its kind in over two decades.  There was a lavish dinner, traditional Omani music and what Netanyahu told his Cabinet were "very important talks", promising more trips would follow.

Sure enough, while he was speaking Israel's Sports and Culture Minister, Miri Regev, was at an international judo contest in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  When an Israeli athlete took a gold medal and the Israeli national anthem was played – totally unprecedented on the Arabian Peninsula she burst into tears.

Later, while Israel’s transport minister was in the Omani capital, Muscat, proposing a railway between Israel and Arab countries, another Israeli official at an event in the Arab emirate of Dubai was talking about "peace and security".

All this occurred in spite of the fact that neither Oman nor the UAE recognize Israel, and Israel has no official diplomatic relations with either.

With the odd and the unexpected the order of the day, how the Trump peace plan will be received, when it is finally revealed to the world, is anyone’s guess.

Published in the MPC Journal, 9 November 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/11/09/how-fares-trumps-peace-plan/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 13 November 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/13112018-how-fares-trumps-peace-plan-oped/

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Erdogan seizes the moment

                                                                                 Video version
            Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic president, is a past-master at seizing the moment and turning it to his political advantage.  The latest example is the Jamal Khashoggi affair, which he has managed masterfully, gaining a steadily increasing advantage over his prime rivals in the Muslim world – Saudi Arabia.  But how secure is he against repercussions?

What Erdogan has sought, first and foremost, in his political career is absolute power.  This he has managed to win by outwitting his formidable political opponents, both at home and abroad.  Skilfully he managed a constitutional coup which first placed him in the presidency, and then redefined the role, function and powers of the office.

Along the way opposition centered around followers of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish cleric who lives in the US. Gulen had followers at high levels in the Turkish establishment.  Early in December 2013 Erdogan was furious to discover that, for more than a year, the police had been engaged in an undercover inquiry into corruption within the government and the upper echelons of his AKP party. He declared the police investigation a plot to discredit his government ahead of local elections in March 2014.

Those elections were the key to unlocking Erdogan’s ambitions.  The AKP emerged as the strongest party, and back in office Erdogan successfully changed the constitution to permit him to remain as prime minister beyond the statutory three terms.  Still in power he stood for president in 2014, and won.  In the June 2015 general elections the AKP campaigned to enhance the presidential role to a nearly all-powerful position as head of government and head of state. The office of the prime minister would disappear, making way for a strong, executive president with the power to appoint cabinet ministers, propose budgets and appoint more than half the nation’s highest judicial body. The president would also have the power to impose states of emergency. 

The constitutional revision required endorsement by popular referendum, But popular support was evenly spread between the AKP and the Gulenists, and the result of the referendum seemed far from certain. 

Then came the events of 15 July 2016.

In a chaotic night of violence, what appears to have been an attempted coup by a group of the Turkish military left at least 290 people dead and more than 1,400 injured.  The confused sequence of events has never been fully explained.

Just before 11 pm, military jets were seen flying over Ankara, and a group of Turkish soldiers took over several institutions there and in Istanbul, where tanks rolled into the streets.  In the capital, Ankara, bombs struck the parliament building, and a helicopter stolen by rogue pilots was shot down by an F-16 jet.

Erdogan was hundreds of miles away as these events unfolded. By the time he addressed the nation hours later, the situation was under control.  On July 20 Erdogan, claiming that Gulen was behind the attempted coup, declared a state of emergency and instituted retribution of unprecedented severity. More than 110,000 people were arrested including nearly 11,000 police officers, 7,500 members of the military, and 2,500 prosecutors and judges. 179 media outlets were shut down, and some 2700 journalists dismissed. 

In April 2017 the referendum on enhanced presidential powers duly took place.  The result – a narrow 51 percent in favor and 49 percent against – confirmed the suspicions of those unconvinced about the nature of the coup the previous July.  Erdogan might well have lost the referendum, and with it his bid for supreme power. had there not been a strong reason to remove opposition voices and to rally Turkish opinion against rebels seeking to overthrow the government.

Turkey’s state of emergency was maintained for two full years, during which Erdogan was able to govern with virtually dictatorial powers, jailing some 160,000 people judged to be political opponents.  On July 8, 2018, just before the state of emergency was lifted, a new purge resulted in the sacking of a further 18,000 state workers, including soldiers, police and academics.  Another TV channel and a further three newspapers were closed.  In short, the Turkish state is as brutal and repressive a regime as one is likely to encounter anywhere in the civilized world, and a huge segment of the Turkish people is seething in resentment against it.

Erdogan has long sought to challenge Saudi Arabia as leader of the Sunni Muslim world.  He has seized the political initiative whenever possible by claiming to represent genuine Islamic interests, as against Saudi’s long alliance and friendship with the West. Erdogan seized on US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 as on a gift from the gods.  He convened a special meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which he was president. Presenting himself as the real Muslim defender of Jerusalem. he condemned Trump’s announcement and castigated the Arab world for its lacklustre response. 

Over the Khashoggi affair Erdogan has managed to inflict major damage to the global standing of his Saudi rivals.  Using the by-now fully compliant Turkish media, he has forced Saudi Arabia to retreat step by step in the face of mounting evidence of a pre-planned and brutal assassination.  In his address to the Turkish parliament on October 23 he managed to imply that the Turkish investigation would be able to reveal a good deal more in due course.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS as he is known) is universally believed to have authorized the Khashoggi plot, and Erdogan’s master plan may be to discredit him to such an extent that his father, King Salman. would be forced to remove him from power.

However, to do so would be for the king to admit that MBS was indeed responsible for the Khashoggi affair. He is unlikely to take that course.  If he did choose to counter the relentless anti-Saudi campaign emanating from Ankara, there is plenty in Erdogan’s questionable tenure of the Turkish presidency to draw on.


Published in the Eurasia Review, 30 October 2018 as:
Erdogan is in a Glasshouse - is he safe throwing stones?
https://www.eurasiareview.com/30102018-erdogan-is-in-a-glasshouse-is-he-safe-throwing-stones-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 30 October 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/10/30/erdogan-is-in-a-glasshouse-is-he-safe-throwing-stones/?fbclid=IwAR3EtfW7WJMqPo3bebTRPP5yrPnElvOBdKYJ6ErlAKvvaXBLRQ_SUDwFwiY

Monday, 22 October 2018

Saying it in English

                   This article appears in the edition of the "Jerusalem Report" dated 29 October 2018

News anchor Arieh O'Sullivan plays the blues in front of the Israel Broadcasting Authority's former headquarters in Jerusalem to protest the closure of the English News in 2017


          English is spoken by more of the world’s population than any other language, Chinese included. While only a small minority of Israeli citizens have English as their mother tongue, a high proportion can speak it. Why then, one might legitimately ask, does Israel’s state-supported media organization, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation (or Kan, meaning “Here”, as they call themselves) originate not one single television programme in English, not even a newscast, and produce just one hour of radio news in English each day?

          Kan’s predecessor, the old Israel Broadcasting Authority (the IBA), traced its origins back to the days of the British Mandate, which in 1936 set up Palestine’s first radio station. In 1948 it was handed over to the newly established State of Israel, and began broadcasting as Kol Yisrael (which translates as “The Voice of Israel”, but also, by way of a pun in Hebrew, “All Israel”). In the IBA’s later years a number of investigations exposed administrative failures and an inappropriate “old-boy-network” system of management that severely shook public confidence in the organization. Eventually the government decided on drastic action. In May 2014 a Bill in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, proposed abolishing the IBA and replacing it with a new broadcasting body. The political and legislative process took three full years, and Kan went on the air on May 15, 2017.

          Whatever its administrative shortcomings, during its 48 years of operation the old IBA chalked up many successes. As Israel Media Watch (IMW) founder, Eli Pollak, points out, for many years it did fulfil its original remit – to reflect and document the life and culture of Israeli citizens, of Judaism and of the diaspora, by broadcasting both within and outside Israel. Back in the latter half of the twentieth century, when radio was dominant as the medium of mass communication, the IBA was broadcasting five daily programmes in English both to domestic audiences and, by way of shortwave transmissions, world-wide.

          English-language news and comment programmes transmitted by the old Kol Yisrael were heard across the globe, providing an account of life in Israel that was in stark contrast to the largely ill-disposed picture painted by most of the world’s media. In the darkest days of the Cold War the English broadcasts of Kol Yisrael even penetrated the Iron Curtain, sustaining and supporting the “refuseniks” who kept pressing the Soviet authorities to be allowed to emigrate to Israel.

          In short the IBA was attempting, in many respects successfully, to meet the four challenges facing a state-supported public broadcasting organization in Israel. First and foremost, it had an obligation to provide an acceptable radio and TV service to its domestic audience. Secondly, it needed to take account of the needs of the large number of immigrants who had another language as their mother tongue. Thirdly it had an obligation to the Jewish diaspora, by providing them with news from Israel and a picture of Israeli life and culture. Fourthly, there was a crying need to present the non-Jewish world with an authoritative account of how the political, economic and cultural problems of the Middle East were impacting on Israel – in short, an Israeli point of view.
                      Staff protest at the closure of English News in 2017
          Nowadays communications are global. TV stations are not confined to their country of origin. By way of on-line transmissions and their take-up by cable companies and satellite broadcasters, TV networks can enjoy an enormous global reach. It has become common practice for countries intent on conveying their slant on the news to set up 24-hour TV stations broadcasting in English. Israel’s main cable and satellite companies, just like such organizations across the globe, offer their customers English-language TV stations originating from – among other places − Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China, Russia, France, and Germany, as well as several from the USA and Britain. From Israel’s state-sponsored broadcasting body itself, though, there is not a peep!

          As a result a world-wide audience amounting to many millions gain their impressions of Israel, its political situation, its problems and its culture, from sources that are often openly hostile. Is it any wonder that Israel has such a poor public image with so many people across the globe?

          The requirement, built into the old IBA’s remit, to present Israel to the world was not included in the charter of Kan. IMW’s Eli Pollak sees Kan, shorn as it is of all public policy concerns, as essentially a commercially orientated body. During the negotiations that led to its creation, says Pollak, it was Israel Media Watch which pressed for “Israel” to be included in the formal title of the new body. It originally wished to be known merely as the “Public Broadcasting Corporation”. IMW could not prevail against the government’s categorical refusal to mandate the new body to broadcast to the diaspora – indeed the IPBC law expressly deleted a paragraph that would have forced it to do so­­ − but as the IPBC it is at least formally identified as Israel’s public voice and, as such, could legitimately be entrusted with presenting an Israeli point of view to the world.

          In fact Michael Mero, one-time head of IBA’s external radio broadcasting, believes that Kan’s remit should be extended by the government to encompass responsibility for portraying Israel in all its aspects to a global audience. He points to the UK’s enormously prestigious BBC as an example of how much influence a public service broadcasting organization can achieve in conveying news, comment and information to the world at large. Mero would urge Ayoob Kara, the Minister of Communications, to consider how ill-represented Israel is in the world league of radio and TV broadcasters, to start convincing fellow Cabinet ministers of the urgent need for Israel’s point of view to be presented to the world, and to re-examine and revise Kan’s remit accordingly. No longer should nations hostile to Israel be allowed to dominate the world’s airwaves with a constant stream of anti-Israel propaganda with no authoritative alternative point of view being provided to the global audience.

          Nature abhors a vacuum. Well before the IBA had tottered to its demise, its English language TV and radio broadcasts reduced to a bare minimum, a couple of commercial internet-based news enterprises had begun disseminating an Israeli point of view on line.

          The earliest effort was mounted by the Moroccan-born Jewish businessman, Patrick Drahi. He launched an internet TV channel called i24news in 2013 with the specific intention of battling prejudice and ignorance about Israel. Broadcasting in English, French and Arabic, i24news spread into cable and satellite transmissions in the USA, Europe and Africa. Finally, on August 28, 2018, it started transmitting inside Israel. Its programmes in English are carried by the HOT cable provider on channel 200. Currently the station broadcasts about four hours of its English schedule from New York, and the rest from its studios in Jaffa.

          The ILTV station, funded by J Media Group, a major US advertising organization, began broadcasting online in December 2015. By then Steve Leibowitz, who had been running what was left of the IBA’s English news service as editor-in-chief, had already resigned, perhaps unwilling to be transferred to a new Israeli broadcasting body with a severely restricted remit. In November 2016 he joined ILTV, determined to bring newscasts in English back to Israel’s television screens.

          In February 2017 his efforts were crowned with success. By way of a syndication agreement with Cyprus-based Middle East Television (METV), ILTV’s newcasts are now transmitted on the METV channel on five nights a week. Since METV is carried by Israel’s cable and satellite companies, the ILTV broadcasts are available to the whole Israeli audience. Announcing the partnership Jess Dolgin, CEO of J Media Global, emphasized that the new arrangement would help bring news in English not only to Israeli viewers, but to an audience of some 70 million spread across Asia and Africa.

          There are also several Israel-based internet radio stations broadcasting to the world in English, such as TLV1 and Israel News Talk Radio, an affiliate of Fox News Radio.

          Yet a commercial radio or TV source cannot carry the same weight as a public service broadcasting organization. There are times and occasions for a nation to demonstrate its military might but, as Michael Mero points out, the soft power at a nation’s disposal can be highly effective in its own way. Speaking to the world in English, the generally acknowledged universal language, is just such a demonstration of soft power and is being utilized by more and more nations. Is it not time for Israel to recognize the potential it has to expand its influence while vastly increasing the number of its friends, and take the necessary steps? Perhaps the responsibility now laid on Kan to produce the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest for a world-wide audience will kick-start a more imaginative approach for the future.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 23 October 2018:
https://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Saying-it-in-English-570068

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Hamas, Fatah and Israel - an eternal triangle

                                                                                   Video version
          Hamas, Fatah and Israel – three entities locked in an unproductive relationship. Hamas and Fatah may both consider Israel their mortal enemy, but their hatred for each other is just as bitter. Meanwhile Israel may not actively hate the warring Palestinian organizations, but it totally mistrusts both of them and looks on as they strive against each other.

          The Islamist world is fratricidal. Many groups are in bitter conflict with one another, not always along the traditional Sunni-Shia divide. One long-running feud – the continuing struggle between Hamas and Fatah – does not concern religious doctrine, nor even basic political objectives. Both bodies are Sunni Muslim; both are pledged to restore to Islamic rule the whole of Mandate Palestine, including the area currently occupied by the state of Israel. Their fundamental disagreement is over the strategy for achieving their common purpose, and their struggle is a struggle for power within the Palestinian body politic.

          At just about 10 a.m. on March 13, 2018 Rami Hamdallah, prime minister of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, drove in a motorcade from Israel, through the Erez Crossing, into the Gaza strip. A few seconds later, some 200 meters into Gaza, his car was blasted by a roadside bomb which brought the convoy to an abrupt halt. Seven staff members were injured, but Hamdallah and his intelligence chief Majid Faraj, who was travelling with him, were unharmed, and the whole party quickly retreated to the safety of Israel.

          Within two minutes the Palestinian Authority had issued a statement accusing Hamas of responsibility for the incident, an accusation reiterated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself a week later. On March 20 Abbas, speaking to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, said that if the assassination attempt had succeeded it would have "opened the way for a bloody civil war".

          The incident, he said, would "not be allowed to pass", and he announced that he had taken new “national, legal and financial measures” in retaliation. He did not specify what they were, but they would be on top of cuts ordered by Abbas in 2017 in budgets allocated to Gaza for electricity, medical services, government employees’ salaries and other purposes – steps taken by Abbas in an attempt to pressurize Hamas into ceding control of Gaza to the PA.

          Two days after Abbas’s speech, on March 22, Hamas-run security forces in Gaza announced the death in a gun battle of the main suspect in the assassination attempt. The official statement declared that the suspect, Anas Abdel Malik Abu Khousa, and two colleagues were involved in a shootout with security forces that surrounded his hideout at al-Nuseirat Camp in the center of the Gaza Strip. Two security officers were also killed,

          This incident and its aftermath produced a sharp reversal in Hamas-Fatah reconciliation efforts being diligently pursued at the time by the Egyptian government. Egypt had been trying to broker a deal under which the PA would resume administrative and security control over the two million inhabitants of the Gaza strip.

          Abbas maintained that there had been “zero progress” in the reconciliation process – scarcely surprising, since it was only the latest in at least a dozen unsuccessful attempts since 2005 to reconcile the two warring factions. Despite the suspension of talks, Fatah tried to enlist support for Abbas in the streets of Gaza ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 27. Hamas prevented this. It warned the owners of printing houses in Gaza not to publish posters supporting Abbas, while detaining dozens of Fatah operatives.

          The PA responded. Nearly 50 Hamas activists were taken into custody in the West Bank.

          Now Abbas is said to be jittery following recent statements from the Hamas leadership indicating that Hamas is seeking a new truce agreement with Israel to incorporate the lifting of sanctions.

          Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar recently told an Italian journalist that despite the continuing tensions along the Gaza­­– Israel border, Hamas is not interested in another war. A new war with Israel could well end Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip. Some of its top leaders are convinced that this is precisely what Abbas wants, which explains why they are prepared to accept a long-term truce with Israel under the auspices of Egypt and the UN.

          Abbas opposes the truce concept tooth and nail. He sees it as entrenching Hamas in Gaza indefinitely. What he probably hopes for is what the Hamas leadership opposes – a new Hamas-Israeli conflict which results in the total defeat of Hamas and the extension of PA rule over Gaza’s two million Palestinians.

          Netanyahu, at a press conference on October 4 with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that over the last year Abbas “has made the situation in Gaza more difficult by choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.”

          And indeed, two days later, a senior Hamas official revealed that although Qatar had paid for the fuel needed to keep power plants in Gaza running, and Israel had agreed to the pumping of the fuel into the Strip, the PA was hindering the initiative.

          “The PA threatened the transportation company workers and the employees of the electricity company,” he said, “that they would be held accountable if they received the fuel and operated the power plant for more than four hours. So,” he concluded,” who is besieging you, people of Gaza?”

          Subsequently, in the light of particularly savage attacks on the Israel-Gaza border, Israel has rescinded its cooperation, while the Gaza leadership asserts that the border attacks will continue until Israel lifts its blockade on the export into the Strip of proscribed “dual-use” materials that can be used for military purposes.

          To term all this a merry-go-round is to belittle the seriousness of the issues at stake, and especially the humanitarian disaster that has overtaken the people of Gaza. They have become pawns in a struggle for power between Hamas and Fatah in which Israel, a major player, has to stand to one side till it is played out.

Published in the MPC Journal, 16 October 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/10/16/hamas-fatah-and-israel-an-eternal-triangle/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 24 October 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/24102018-hamas-fatah-and-israel-an-eternal-triangle-oped/