Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The lure of power in Yemen

Ali Abdullah Saleh, ex-President of Yemen

                   In Yemen – as in much of the Middle East – Islam is at war with itself. As Saudi Arabia’s Sunni fundamentalist ruling family and Iran’s equally uncompromising Shia-based Islamic Revolution play out their deadly rivalry, the fault-line between the Shia and the Sunni traditions of Islam defines the conflict, as on so many of the region’s battlefields.

          But in Yemen the picture is particularly complicated. Here it is far from a clear case of two opposing forces slogging it out between themselves. No less than six main combatants are engaged in the conflict, and the separate motives of each create a tangle of competing ambitions and a criss-crossing of the Sunni-Shia boundaries.

          To list the six antagonists: first, the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels; then the lawful president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi; next, AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular); followed by IS (Islamic State); then, Saudi Arabia; and finally – most surprising of all, perhaps –Yemen’s previous long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh who, forced from office in 2012 as a casualty of the so-called Arab Spring, still aspires to play a leading role in his country’s affairs.

          Adding even more complication to a desperately complex situation is the astonishing alliance between Saleh, backed by the Yemeni security forces that have remained loyal to him, and the Houthis, whose chronic grievances led to their uprising and the splitting of the nation. This Saleh-Houthi liaison is certainly a mariage de convenance, for it was against the Saleh régime that the Houthis, consistently complaining of discrimination, fought no less than six wars between 2004 and the uprisings in 2011 that led to Saleh’s loss of power. Yet here we have a working alliance between them which, as far as Saleh is concerned, could reasonably be interpreted as a renewed bid for supreme power.

          Saleh’s sights are clearly set on ousting his one-time deputy, President Hadi, and the government he has led from February 2012. During the Arab Spring President Saleh faced widespread armed protests. Finally, unable to restore stability, he was induced with great reluctance to leave office and transfer the powers of the presidency to his deputy, Hadi. The new president took over a country in a state of chaos. When in September 2014 the Houthis captured the country’s capital, Sana’a, and installed an interim government, Hadi fled to Aden, and from there, on March 26, 2015 to Saudi Arabia.

          He arrived just about the time of the first Saudi air-strike against the Houthis. The Saudis, exasperated by Iran's continued support for the Houthi rebels and fearful of a Shia takeover on their southern border, had decided to come to the aid of Yemen’s beleaguered president. A subsequent Arab League summit endorsed the Saudi intervention, and no less than ten Middle East states agreed to unite behind Saudi Arabia to form a fighting force dedicated to defeating the Houthis and restoring President Hadi to office.

          What of the other combatants?

          AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular), led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a Yemeni former aide to Osama Bin Laden, was formed in January 2009. Although a totally Sunni organization, its long-term objective is to topple both the Saudi monarchy and the Yemeni government, and to establish an Islamic caliphate on jihadist lines in the Arabian peninsula. So AQAP opposes both the Shi’ite Houthis and Sunni President Hadi.

          The recently established Yemenite affiliate of Islamic State is just as Sunni-adherent and fundamentalist as AQAP, but it seeks to eclipse the al-Qaeda presence. Intent on extending the reach of its parent organization into the Arabian peninsula, it therefore opposes not only the Shi’ite Houthis, but also the anti-Houthi Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the Sunni AQAP, and Sunni President Hadi,

          And the Houthis, to whose struggle for control of the country Saleh has now allied himself, what of them? They are a fundamentalist Shia group which takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a revolutionary leader who launched an uprising against the government in 2004 and was killed by the Yemeni army later that year. The organization’s philosophy is summarised with blinding clarity by their flag, which consists of five statements in Arabic, the first and the last in green, the middle three in red. They read:

                                           "God is Great,
                                             Death to America,
                                             Death to Israel,
                                             Curse on the Jews,
                                             Victory to Islam".

          The Houthis have been supported for years with weapons and other military hardware by the élite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This has enabled them to overrun large areas of the country, including the capital, Sana’a, which remains in their hands despite nearly two years of military effort by the Saudi-backed coalition to oust them.

          The ferocity of the Saudi-led campaign, which has seen more than 9,000 people killed and 2.8 million driven from their homes, has alienated large sections of the population. It has incidentally provided Saleh with a political advantage which he is busily exploiting.

          On August 21, 2016, during an interview on the state-run Russia24 TV channel, Saleh announced that “the new government” was ready to allow Russia access to all of Yemen’s military bases. His “new government”, the result of a formal liaison between the Houthis' Revolutionary Committee and Saleh's General People’s Congress party, was a reference to a joint 10-member Supreme Political Council, launched on August 6.

          “We are ready to provide all facilities to the Russian Federation,” he said. “We extend our hand to Russia to cooperate in the field of combating terrorism.”

          This was a bold play at power politics. He was cocking a snook at the US-supported Saudi coalition, and providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with the opportunity of strengthening Russia’s dominant position in the Middle East following its active involvement in the Syrian civil war.

          Saleh has also gone on TV to rile against the Saudi-led military effort. In doing so he has caught the public mood. Recent indiscriminate, or poorly targeted, bombing operations have struck hospitals, schools and markets. As a result the US military is distancing itself from the war, and the French charity Médecins Sans Frontières has withdrawn from six hospitals after one was bombed resulting in the death of 19 people.

          Thoroughly disillusioned with the Saudi-led coalition, in mid-August the public joined in mass demonstrations in support of the new Houthi-Saleh governing council
Meanwhile the latest US-led peace initiative envisages a national unity government including Houthi representation. Saleh may yet pull off his bid for a return to power.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 31 August 2016:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 31 August 2016:

Published in the MPC Journal, 13 September 2016:

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The making of a united Kurdistan


The yellow area combines latest gains by Kurdish troops in Syria with the territory administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.         

          Slowly, and much to the distaste of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the possibility of a united autonomous Kurdistan stretching across the northern reaches of Syria and Iraq is emerging.

          The capture of the township of Manbij from Islamic State (IS) on 12 August 2016 produces along Turkey’s southern border an uninterrupted swathe of territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Arab and Kurdish militias. This area joins seamlessly with Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Kurdish populated area granted autonomy in Iraq’s 2005 constitution.

          Just as the artificial boundaries and borders imposed on the Middle East by the victorious allies after the First World War are laughed to scorn by Islamic State (IS) in declaring its caliphate, so any united autonomous Kurdistan – if such an entity were ever to come into existence – would have to sit fairly and squarely across what now constitute the internationally recognized borders of Turkey, Syria. Iraq and Iran.

          Iraq’s Kurdistan contains about 5 million of the world’s approximately 30 million ethnic Kurds; the liberated region in Syria about 2 million. Most of the rest reside in the areas immediately adjacent to Kurdistan’s northern and eastern borders, in Turkey and Iran respectively - both of which are deeply opposed to any suggestion of granting Kurds independence, or even autonomy on the Iraqi model.

          It was in August 1920, shortly after the end of the First World War, that the dissolution and partition of the Ottoman Empire were incorporated into the Treaty of Sèvres. That Treaty, made between the victorious Allied powers and representatives of the government of Ottoman Turkey, abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. Moreover, it required a referendum to be conducted to decide the issue of the Kurdistan homeland.

          Sèvres was very quickly rendered null and void by the establishment in 1922 of the Turkish Republic under Kemal Ataturk. The result was a new treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, which gave control of the entire Anatolian Peninsula, including the Kurdistan homeland in Turkey, to the new republic.

          Kurdish nationalism emerged largely as a reaction to the secular nationalism that revolutionized Turkey under Ataturk. The first of many violent uprisings occurred in 1923 and, after 20 more years of struggle, Mullah Mustafa Barzani emerged as the figurehead for Kurdish separatism. Years of rebellion in Iraq ended with a peace deal between the government and the Kurdish rebels in 1970, granting recognition of their language and self-rule, though clashes over control of the oil-rich area around Kirkuk continued.

          When Barzani died in 1979, the leadership of the KDP passed to his son, Masoud. But a new – and, as it turned out, rival – force had emerged in Kurdish politics with the founding by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). During the Iran-Iraq War, which began in 1980, the KDP sided with the Iranians against Saddam Hussein and Kurdish Peshmerga troops helped launch an offensive from the north. In retribution Saddam ordered the notorious poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, during which some 5,000 civilians were massacred.

          The journey towards a unified Kurdish movement in Iraq, bedevilled by internal politicking, was long and bitter. In 1994 a power-sharing arrangement between the KDP and the PUK fell apart, leading to two separate administrations in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and a no-holds-barred civil war for control of the Kurdish-dominated parts of northern Iraq. Finally, in 1998, Barzani of the KDP and Talabani of the PUK agreed a peace treaty and signed a joint leadership deal. Eventually the PUK and the KDP set up a unified regional government, and Masoud Barzani became a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

          When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurdish Peshmerga troops joined in the fight to overthrow Saddam Hussein. After he was driven from office the Iraqi people, in a national referendum, approved a new constitution which recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government as an integral element in Iraq’s administration. Barzani was elected President of Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2005.

          In Syria the civil war, which began in earnest in 2011 in an attempt to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his administration, brought the Kurds to the forefront of the region’s politics. In early fighting Syrian government forces abandoned many Kurdish occupied areas in the north and north-east of the country, leaving the Kurds to administer them themselves. As early as October 2011, sponsored by President Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, the Syrian Kurds established a Kurdish National Council (KNC) to press for eventual Kurdish autonomy. As in Iraq, political differences within the Kurdish community have resulted in a breakaway party, the PYD, challenging the national council.

          The KNC is wholeheartedly in favour of establishing a Kurdish Regional Government in Syria, to mirror that in Iraq. The PYD favours establishing a multi-ethnic administration in the areas of northern Syria captured from government forces. An uneasy truce between the two groups, brokered by Barzani in 2012, seems to be holding, despite a succession of incidents between them.

          Is some sort of amalgamation of the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish areas a practical proposition?

          “We will never allow a state to be formed in northern Syria, south of our border,” declared Erdogan in Istanbul on June 26, 2015. “We will maintain our struggle whatever the cost. They are trying to…change the demographics of the region. We will not condone it."

          If anything like Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan were to be established in Syria, and worse if it were to amalgamate with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, it would feed demands by Turkey’s Kurds to be linked to it in some way. This would be anathema to Erdogan, who has consistently opposed his domestic Kurdish separatist movement - which explains why, on joining the US-led anti-IS coalition in Syria in July 2015, he began air-strikes against IS and the Kurds indiscriminately, tarring both with the terrorist brush.

          Nevertheless Erdogan may have to bow to the politically inevitable, even if it causes him continuing domestic headaches with his substantial Turkish-Kurdish population. Everything turns on what sort of Syrian entity emerges from the current conflict.

          It seems highly unlikely that Syrian President Bashar Assad, even with combined Russian and Iranian support, will ever regain the whole of his former state. Even the eventual elimination of IS in Syria, if that were ever to be achieved with the help of the US-led coalition, would scarcely be to Assad’s advantage, since the coalition is pretty well unanimous in wishing to see him deposed. The anti-IS coalition, moreover, is highly indebted to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who have proved themselves outstandingly effective fighters on the ground.

          When the conflict is eventually resolved, and the spoils of victory come to be disbursed, gratitude and common decency seem to demand that Syria’s Kurds are at last awarded their autonomy. In that eventuality, a unified Kurdistan would be one step nearer to fulfilment.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 23 August 2016:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 22 August 2016

Published in the MPC Journal, 28 August 2016:

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Qatar phenomenon

          It is not easy to pigeon-hole Qatar, a stand-alone Middle Eastern state in more ways than one, geographically, politically, economically, influentially. That Qatar aspires to become a major player in the region and beyond may seem obvious enough, but in pursuit of this objective Qatar’s tactics sometimes puzzle, sometimes infuriate, its neighbours. But then, as the world’s wealthiest nation by a long chalk, Qatar can afford the luxury of proceeding along its own preferred path, without too much concern for what others think.

          Qatar’s strategy of backing Islamists — from Hamas in Gaza, to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to hard-line Syrian opposition fighters — while also offering itself as a key US ally, is rooted in pragmatism: Qatar wants to protect itself and to extend its influence in the region by being friends with everybody.

          “We don’t do enemies,” said Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah. “We talk to everyone.”

          And talk they certainly do, through the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeerah world-wide media network – a network whose independence has been questioned, but is certainly curtailed by a requirement to avoid adverse criticism of Qatar’s Emir.

          So when the Emir announces – as he did on July 29, 2016 – that he intends to pay one month’s wages for thousands of public sector employees in Gaza to help “alleviate the suffering of brethren in the Strip,” world opinion is left wondering whether his stated motive is his sole one, or whether other considerations lie behind the gesture. He will be spending $31.6 million from his nation’s purse to cover the salaries of some 50,000 Hamas-hired civil servants, many of whom have not seen regular pay packages since 2013.

        But why have they not? One might legitimately ask what happens to the literally billions of official development assistance dollars poured into Hamas’s coffers every year.

          Qatar is politically close to Hamas. In January 2016 Qatar handed over some 1,060 housing units to Gazan families who had lost their homes during recent wars. These homes marked the completion of the first of three phases of a multi-million dollar redevelopment effort Qatar pledged to fund in 2012. In addition to infrastructure facilities, roads and green spaces, it includes two schools, a health centre, a commercial center, a mosque and a six-floor hospital.

        “There’s much more than money involved with Qatar’s offer,” said Patrick Clawson, director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It draws in many of the region’s disputes and rivalries under one roof.”

          Take the oft-proposed joint Palestinian municipal elections, which had been scheduled for October 2016 but which - as so many times previously - never took place. Qatar’s substantial investment into Gaza was undoubtedly designed to boost Hamas’s popularity with the Palestinian man-in-the-street, as well as add to the concerns of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas about the likely result of the vote.

          And yet Israel apparently raised no public objection to Qatar pouring millions of dollars into Gaza. Back in June 2015 Mohammad al-Emadi, a Qatari official, travelled between Israel and Gaza to discuss reconstruction projects in Gaza despite the fact that Qatar does not recognize Israel, and the two countries have no diplomatic relations.

          "Life is full of contradictions and strange things,” was how Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for Israel's military intelligence, described Israel's agreement to Qatar channelling its aid through Hamas.

          Perhaps Israel believes that permitting aid from Qatar could help undercut Iran’s influence in Gaza. For Qatar’s neighbours in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, have come to realize how much their strategic interests overlap with those of Israel when it comes to the security of the region. The increasing power and influence of Iran dismays them all. Iran has been a main source of funding to Hamas for decades.

          Qatar is currently considered anti-Israel root and branch. It was not always so. In fact Qatar was the first Gulf sheikhdom to have had official relations with Israel – the two countries opened trade links in 1996 – and, as a matter of interest, when Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup it declared that, although it does not recognize Israel, it would not object to Israel competing in the tournament if it qualifies.

          But now the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) component has entered the picture. On August 4, a meeting in Tunis hosted by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, a body funded by Qatar, was devoted to reviewing how BDS’s attempts to organize a global boycott against Israel could be made even more effective. This, it might be supposed, would be entirely to the delight of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, for after all the BDS movement was founded by a Palestinian – Omar Baghouti – and he still leads it.

          But no. On June 10, 2016 the following statement was sprung on a startled world:

          “The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which includes the widest spectrum of Palestinians worldwide, will not participate in this conference – and does not recommend any participation.”

          In other words, they advocated boycotting the boycott meeting.

          Even more surprising, perhaps, is the first of the reasons given, namely that the Arab Centre and the conference, are sponsored by the Qatari government. “which always stood against BDS, and has normal relations with Israel.”

          No justification was offered for either breath-taking pronouncement. A schism seems to have opened up within BDS.

          As regards the charge often levelled against Qatar of supporting terrorist organisations, there is ample evidence that those strongholds of Wahhabist Islam, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, did sustain, both financially and logistically, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in its early days, as well as its extremist precursors. In August 2015 US Vice-President Joe Biden spelled out what motivated Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

          “They were so determined to take down Assad …they poured … thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world."

          But when IS vowed to topple both the Qatari and the Saudi regimes, the penny dropped and both states allied themselves to the US-led coalition aimed at defeating IS.

          The Emir of Qatar has insisted that his country does not fund terrorism, adding the troubling caveat that Qatar and the West might disagree over what precisely constitutes a terrorist movement. On current evidence he would include IS, but exclude Hamas – a fine distinction most of the world would not acknowledge. But then, Qatar is a stand-alone state.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 16 August 2016

Published in the MPC Journal, 18 August 2016:

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The controversial Mohammed Dahlan

          For years rumours of plots and counterplots have eddied around the controversial figure of Mohammed Dahlan, the charismatic Palestinian politician whom PA President Mahmoud Abbas regards as his greatest enemy, and who might very well eventually succeed him.

          If anything the situation has grown worse in the past few weeks. For example, Dahlan’s name is being associated with the recent attempted coup in Turkey against the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – an assumption, incidentally, that runs counter to the theory that the coup was actually orchestrated by Erdogan himself, as a devious method to justify purging his political opponents and acquiring the autocratic powers he seeks for the presidency.

          The evidence that links Dahlan to this plot is circumstantial, but back in January 2016 the Turkish paper Gercek Hayat actually reported that Dahlan was supervising a multinational plan to conduct a coup against Erdogan, led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), backed by Russia and Iran.

          And then, on the Turkish side, media reports on July 27 indicated that Turkey is looking into the role, if any, played by Dahlan in the coup attempt. A leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ahmet Varol, claimed that Dahlan had close links with followers of Erdogan's arch-foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused by the Turkish authorities of master-minding the coup. The AKP leader admitted there was no hard evidence of Dahlan’s involvement, but asserted that the investigation was on-going and “we will not hesitate to punish and hold accountable those who were involved in harming our country".

          Whether or not Dahlan’s fingers were in this particular pie, there is no doubt that his international influence extends far and wide. Dahlan has lived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for many years, and is an adviser to Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. He has been described as a "friend" of both the Montenegrin and Serbian prime ministers, Milo Djukanovic and Aleksandar Vucic. In 2010 Dahlan and his wife obtained Montenegrin citizenship, Djukanovic describing him in parliament as a friend responsible for building bridges with Abu Dhabi’s royal family resulting in significant investment in the country. Then, in 2013, Dahlan obtained Serbian citizenship, having reportedly promised Serbia millions of dollars in investments from the UAE.

          A view widely held in Palestinian political circles is that Dahlan’s involvement in foreign affairs is part of a strategy designed to strengthen his status as the obvious successor to PA President Abbas. According to Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, “Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.”

          The editor of Jordan’s Al-Mustaqabal, Shaker al-Jawhari, believes Dahlan has the support of a wide range of regional actors. “His influence has even reached Lebanon and Europe, thanks to the funds he is distributing to his supporters there. This makes him a strong and real competitor to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].”

          The Middle East Eye website gives credence to the rumour of yet another plot centered on Dahlan. It asserts that Egypt, Jordan and the UAE have been liaising in a plan for Dahlan to be next head of the Palestinian Authority, and maintains that Hamas is prepared to put aside its long history of hostility to Dahlan (when he was head of security in Gaza in 1995-2000, he had hundreds of Hamas members arrested for undertaking armed operations against Israel). The planned post-Mahmoud Abbas era would leave Dahlan, his arch-rival, in control of the Palestinian presidency, the PLO and the PA. It was reported that the UAE had held talks with Israel about the strategy to install Dahlan, and that the three principals would inform Saudi Arabia once they reached an agreement on its final shape.

          On June 24 Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, held a press conference in his hotel in Doha. "There is a regional plot,” he announced, “to parachute someone from the outside to rule Gaza and Ramallah.” The journalists present understood that he was referring to Mohammed Dahlan. Ever since Avigdor Liberman was appointed Israel's new defense minister on May 30, rumours had been spreading about the plan – or is it conspiracy? – to have Dahlan anointed as Palestine's next leader.

          According to Palestinian and Israeli sources, in January 2015, Liberman, who was then serving as the foreign minister, secretly met with Dahlan in Paris to discuss "Palestinian Authority affairs." The mere suggestion of a Liberman-Dahlan accord — whether true or not — is enough to stigmatize Dahlan and provide his rivals with much ammunition, which they have not hesitated to use.

          In Gaza Dahlan's relations with Hamas have improved remarkably, thanks to the close ties he has fostered with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The leaders of the Gaza-based movement had hoped that Dahlan would help them mend fences with Sisi. They also welcomed the infusion of money from the Dahlan Foundation in the Gaza Strip aimed at promoting projects and helping the needy. Hamas leaders in Gaza cannot afford to reject generous financial aid, even if Dahlan is the sponsor. It is obvious that these national projects bolster and cement his chances of achieving the leadership of the Palestinian political machine.

          Dahlan’s toughest obstacle is the Fatah establishment. In June 2011 Dahlan was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body following allegations of financial corruption and murder – Abbas accused him of murdering the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Dahlan was tried by the PA in absentia on corruption charges.

          But Dahlan now has support from a new Fatah leadership commission, which appears to be diverging radically from established Fatah antagonism to him. On July 25 senior Fatah leaders in Gaza were reported to have accused the new commission of taking decisions in favour of Dahlan that reinforces his grip on the movement against Mahmoud Abbas. In a letter sent to Abbas, they dubbed this a kind of insurgency, and warned of the “full collapse” of the organisational frame of Fatah that started when the current leadership commission took office. The Fatah leaders who wrote the letter accused the commission of connection with outside powers and serving external agendas.

          Do Dahlan’s strengths overcome his weaknesses in this bid to succeed Abbas – if indeed it is, as rumour has it, a serious bid backed by formidable outside interests? The forthcoming regional elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza may provide a valuable indication of Dahlan's political future.

Published in the Jerussalem Post on-line, 9 August 2016:

Published in the MPC Journal, 18 August 2016:

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The con-tricks at the core of BDS

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement proclaims as its basic purpose exerting pressure on Israel to agree to the two-state solution. The facts and the evidence point in a different direction. Were the true purposes, connections and tactics of BDS made universally transparent, it is morally certain that many protagonists would not offer the movement the enthusiastic and committed support that they do.

        The term “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” first made its appearance in a declaration issued in July 2005 under the auspices of a body calling itself Palestinian Civil Society. Representing an impressively large amalgam of Palestinian parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations, it condemned Israel in a succession of emotive trigger-terms (colonialist, ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination, occupation and oppression), drew a direct parallel between the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and apartheid South Africa, and called for a similar world-wide response from all “people of conscience.”

        Neither that original BDS document, nor the movement that developed from it, have time for the nuances of a highly complex situation. The declaration defines the outcome of the 1967 Six Day War as “Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank”– a description implying that Israel acquired the West Bank in the course of an aggressive war. There is no indication that Israel overran the West Bank, and a great deal more territory (none of which, incidentally, was formally or informally designated “Palestinian” at the time) only by defeating the Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian armies that had banded together to annihilate it.  

        The BDS document’s view of the founding of Israel is equally dubious. It asserts that “the state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners”. This implication of malevolent intent, and indeed action, by Israel omits any reference to the fact that Israel’s boundaries were actually set in the 1949 armistice agreements with Transjordan, Egypt and Syria, following the unsuccessful attack by their armies on the nascent state.  Nor that in the same conflict, Transjordan seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and later annexed them illegally. Nor that in the 19 years that followed, neither Jordan (as it soon became) nor Egypt, which had gained control of the Gaza strip, did anything at all about creating a sovereign Palestine.

        Based on foundations as shaky as these, what precisely does the BDS movement claim that it wants to achieve? 

        According to a recent interview with the BDS founder, Omar Barghouti, BDS has three objectives:
                                    · ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories since 1967 including dismantling all settlements (“colonies” in BDS-speak); 
                                  · ending what BDS terms “Israel’s system of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens”; and 
                                   · respecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – “refugees” as defined by UNWRA, the United Nations organization dealing specifically with the Palestinian issue. 

          The UNWRA definition of “refugee” uniquely includes not only the original 850,000 Palestinian Arabs displaced during the Arab-Israel war of 1948, but all their descendants generation after generation. The number of so-called Palestinian “refugees” has consequently mushroomed to some 5 million people – all of them, apparently, entitled to return to their original family dwellings. How 5 million people could be accommodated in the living space once occupied by 850,000 is left unexplained, and for a very good reason. For the call, clearly, is to swamp Israel with eponymous “refugees” to the point where the Jewish state ceases to exist as such.

          It is not only through the refugee issue that BDS seeks Israel’s elimination. It seeks the same objective by way of the action implicit in its name: boycott, divestment and sanctions.

          Boycott means breaking off relationships with Israel in a variety of fields – commercial, economic, academic, cultural and sporting; Divestment is the withdrawal of investments by banks and pension funds, or from companies operating in Israel; Sanctions are punitive actions taken by governments and international organizations, including trade penalties or bans, arms embargoes, and cutting off diplomatic relations.

          If the BDS movement ever succeeded in gaining widespread acceptance of its programme, Israel could cease to function as a viable sovereign state. That is indeed the ultimate aim not only of BDS, but of the Palestinian bodies supporting it. Hamas, the rejectionist rulers of Gaza, and Fatah, the controlling body of the Palestinian Authority, share the ultimate objective of an Israel-free Middle East - in other words, a Palestine "from the river (Jordan) to the sea (the Mediterranean)". 

          So the apparently balanced, reasonable and liberal demands of BDS mask the movement’s real objective. While the elimination of the state of Israel may indeed be to the liking of certain sections of the global community, it is not the desire of most. Nor is it what a goodly number of the balanced, reasonable and liberal individuals in the worlds of academe, the arts, politics, the media, commerce and elsewhere believe they are supporting.

          Over and above this, BDS has recently latched itself to a social theory that has been achieving an inordinate amount of attention among the politically correct – intersectionality. 

          The theory of Intersectionality was originally developed within the radical feminist movement. It was postulated that gender discrimination against women can be directly shaped by someone’s race or ethnicity, and that the two are influenced by each another. This basic concept of one form of oppression influencing another appealed to sociologists, and soon mushroomed to encompass the idea that discrimination within a society against all disenfranchised groups or minorities, such as racism, ageism, sexism and homophobia, are interlinked. 

          Now BDS advocates have taken intersectionality to a whole new level by successfully injecting the anti-Israel cause into these intersecting forms of oppression. As a result, groups that consider themselves oppressed are increasingly perceiving Israel as part of the dominant and oppressive global power structure, and Palestinians as fellow victims.  In short, intersectionality offers BDS a fashionable and acceptable way of wielding the ultimate anti-Semitic weapon – linking every perceived evil in the world to the Jews, or in this case the Jewish state. This is classic and blatant anti-Semitism, and Western liberal opinion in general would surely not endorse it. 

          It is high time that the con-tricks at the heart of the BDS movement were exposed.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 4 August 2016: