The thesis of this short column, can be summarized in the message that the leaders of the underdog party in a protracted and intractable conflict cannot be expected to act all the time rationally( as versus to emotions as the term is unusually used in the political discourses), regardless of the context and its history. And also regardless of the General and the overall positions of those leaders.

On this basis, one can look to the last statement of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the opening of the Palestinian National Council of the PLO ( The PNC) in the 30th of last April considering the “ Jewish usuary” as the reason for their hate and therefore the successive killings in Europe.

This statement was reviewed and received as separate from the context( The status of the conflict), the personality of Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace who also presented his last peace plan to the UN General Assembly In the fall of last year, followed by presenting it in his speech to the EU in Brussels last January this year, then to the Arab Summit in Dhahran of Saudi Arabia in 15th of April, and last but not least in the PNC meeting few days ago.

His plan included a call for an international conference to be held under the international legitimacy and run by an international collective mechanism to reach a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The plan was strongly welcomed by the EU, Russia, China, Brazil, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, most of the non- aligned countries, and finally it was adopted by the Arab last Summit, and last PNC Conference, and became part of their resolutions.

The only two countries who strongly reject Abbas peace plan are the United States, and Israel.
Obviously all know the answer of why is that?. Briefly both of them do not have a peace plan that is capable to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The details are known and were discused through an immense number of articles written by many observers.

The writer of this column has his reservation on Abbas peace plan, based on the fact that instead of just demanding the world for it’s implementation, we should first create our comprehensive and continuous Non- Violent Intifada in order to make the world adopting the plan. Nevertheless the striking question for this column is: Why Abbas “ irrational” statement was stripped from its links to the history of the conflict, its context today, and also from the personality and the history of Abbas himself as a man of peace?.

This question is two-fold: In one hand, why this “ Stripping” process came out as a consensus among the world major powers?. Why as a result there were a series of strong statements against Abbas without mentioning( at least by those that supported his peace plan), even that he is a man of peace, and putting his “ mistake” Within this overall “ evaluation” of him?.

The answer for these questions, goes to the Western conceptualization of “ who is the moderate” among the underdogs in the conflicts, presented all the time as the person who is completely rational, and as a one that is not expected to do even any single “mistake” of following his/her emotions. If he or she did that mistake, even once, it will be then enough to start the process of his/ her Politicide by legitimizing him among his/her people and internationally.

This takes us to the second part of this question, which is why the two former charismatic leaders of the Palestinians were deligitimized at the end?. These two are The Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, the head of the Pre- 1948 Arab High Commitee( and later the Arab High Commission), and the second is Yaser Arafat.

The first escaped detention by the British in the 1930’s due to his role in the 1936 revolution in Palestine by escaping to Iraq, and then to Iran when the British Forces were back to Iraq during the World War Two, and finally he found himself escaping from Iran to Berlin the capital of the Nazi Germany when the British occupied Iran. He found a shelter in the Nazi Germany but all the respectful and non demagogic studies will tell that he did not become an advocate to the Nazi ideology. So why he was deligitimized?. The same goes to Yaser Arafat the signatory of Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993, and the man of peace together with Yitzhak Rabin. After his rejection of 2000 Camp David American offered deal, he found himself imprisond in his compound in Ramallah by the Israeli right wing Government , till he died.

One to think of these two cases, and then speculating: Are the Palestinian leadrs are expected to follow all the time to line of the great power, and to expect punishemt and ousting from the “ moderation” category when they do not do? Are we accordingly witnessing the process of delegitimizing now Mahmoud Abbas after he showed his objection to the American” Ultimate plan” that do not solve any of the issues of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, and others?. Is this a formula to move him out of the “ moderation” category? Is it the fate of the Palestinians to continue having an ethnocide combined with a politicide of their political leadership through all their modern history?. Will be there a real peace plan to be implemented so this fate to be transformed?.

In the same Line: Are the statements against Abbas stripped from all what mentioned helpful in path to prevent the delegitimization of Abbas? are they rational by themselves, or just reactions of anger by some , and instruments to deligitimize Abbas by others? what are the level of “ tolerance” given to the underdog in a conflict by those who are” stereotyping” him/ her?, and when the patronizing part of this stereotyping will be removed?. Finally how these condemnations to Abbas will not objectively leads to the strengthening of the Israeli settler colonial project on the expense of the Palestinians?

Special to Akhbar Elbalad

Published in Tribune
Saturday, 21 April 2018 16:19

To be a Palestinian Jerusalemite these days

The Arab Summit held in Saudi Arabia in the 15th of April, passed this year without attracting the media attention. Strong decisions about Palestine and Iran, and a deep split regarding Syria.These are in general the summit resolutions.

Jerusalem wise the summit was called by King Salman as “ AlQuds Summit”, with 150 million dollars allocated by Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Endownment in the city, and other 50 million allocated to the UNRWA. As happened with the previous summits financial support decisions, one has to wait and see if these will find their way to implementation this time. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the summit after its end, calling for a mechanism to implement the summit decisions. We will wait and see.

In Israel, there were almost no response to the Arab Summit resolutions. The Israeli plans in regard to Jerusalem continued as if nothing happened. Besides that some Israeli voices who consider them seleves as “ Peace makers”, moved from their previous patronizing position of giving “advisory opinions” to the Palestinians about alternatives to what is called as “ the failure of the Palestinian strategies for Jerusalem in the last fifty years”, to a new worse position of creating a list for joining the Israeli upcoming municipal elections of this year. This participation is taking place in the framework of the Israeli annexation to the city, and practically recognizing it, by looking for the improvement of the daily life issues of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem through this system instead of working to support the creation of Palestinian facts in the ground towards Palestinian self determination. Interesting enough this new “ project” is presented under the slogan of “ the people democratic right to vote”, as if this democratic participation cannot be achieved by bringing back the Palestinian Municipality that was dissolved illegally by Israel in 1967, and by allowing for the Palestinian munici elections in
West Bank and Gaza Strip to be inclusive to East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.

This development in the year of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, will only create within the existing asymmetry an inclusion process of the Palestinians in the Israeli system, that it besides creating fragmentation among the Palestinians instead of supporting by practical means their right to self determination and independence.

The problem to the Palestinian Jerusalemites with the Arabs are those of that they are making slogans about supporting, but practically speaking the Arab support is fragmented, compitative between different Arab Countires, and also the support that arrives is very small.

The problem of the Palestinian Jerusalemites with the State of Palestine Authorities is about the latter inability to start acting as a Palestinian State in the ground, with East Jerusalem as its capital, which will include the implementation of practical economic and community based programs in Jerusalem, and also include the creation of a long term nonviolent resistance. Now the Jerusalemites are looking to the Palestinian National Council of the 30th of April to make a crucial steps in that direction. Can it?

The big problem for the Palestinian East Jerusalemites will still to be the ISRAELI OCCUPATION, and its ongoing plans for the deepening of the Israeli settler colonial project in the city. Reading the mentioned list for municipal elections program one will find that occupation is not mentioned, and as well the right of the Palestinians to have back their dissolved 1967 Municipality is not mentioned. Moreover the list program ignores the fact that most of the decisions regarding the Israelization and the Judaization of Jerusalem are taken in the Israeli Ministerial level rather than the municipal level. Do they want to be “ witnesses” ( if they succeeded in the municipal elections) on the settlements expansion and the humiliation against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including for example the humiliation taking place in the offices of the Israeli Ministry of Interior in East Jerusalem?

Yet, this is not all the story, but there is an ethical side of it that still to be tackled: Opposite to relativism which considers every point of view as merely an “ Opinion”, and therefore considers all opinions as all legitimate and equal regardless of the divide, the Israeli so called “ Peace activists” are called to make the courageous move from this “ Neutrality”, to the position of the the ethical support of what their Palestinian partners struggle for. Without this move, talking about struggling together become impossible, and the joint ventures become like a waste of the Golden time in controversies and arguments on the expense of taking actions.

Finally, despite all these pressures and others not mentioned on the Palestinian East Jerusalemites, there are lights in the horizon, the last was the decisions of the economic conference in Istanbul last week, and others. More importantly there is the Palestinian strong sense of integrity, and the resilience and the ongoing community development in the East Jerusalem communities, which make the Palestinian East Jerusalemite steadfast, continue and prosper despite all the odds.

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Published in Tribune

As it happens every time when the Israeli municipal elections get closer, one will see voices calling the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to break their boycott to those elections. So far the Palestinian participation in those elections did not exceed one to three percent in all of its rounds. The explication of this very low turnout by claiming that the East Jerusalem Palestinians are afraid from the PLO and that the factions , is disrespectful to both the people and the factions. The people in Jerusalem are acting according to their believes rather than according to what the factions ask them to do, also the factions actions are usually not directed towards terrorizing their people. The public opinion poll that Haaretz published last month claiming that 59 percent of the East Jerusalem Palestinians are in favor of voting in those elections  looks to be representing the positions of one segment from East Jerusalem Palestinian population rather than representing all segments of this highly fragmented society due to the Israeli occupation policies since 1967.

The argument of those who call for Palestinian participation in those elections include that this participation will give the Palestinians their rights in the municipal level, might create a freeze of settlement, and also it might bring out a good response to President Trump decision about about “ Israelizing” Jerusalem as a whole( See for Instance Uri Avnery response to Abraham Burg proposal of a list to be led by Ahmad Tibi for those elections both published in Haaretz few days ago).

These claims are based on the assumption that the Palestinians might succeed in those  elections together with the Israeli colleagues in the list because of being around 40 percent of the population.

The assumption is awkward because the ability of such a list to win the elections by exploiting  the rift between the secular and the religious communities among the Jews, which was possible in the past is not any more possible after the right wing religious and secular segments became able to unite their forces both in the Israeli government and in the municipal levels as well in the last few years. Therefore the failure of the list is highly likely.

Besides that if it won, will that lead for reversing or at least freezing the settler colonial expansion?. An issue that all know for being key for Zionism. 

Looking to  the experience of the Palestinians inside Israel participation in both the Knesset and the local council elections will teach us that at the end the procedures of taking over the Palestinians lands and expanding  settlements on their expense continued since 1948 despite this participation.

It is then a wishful thinking to find easy solutions to more complicated issues by suggesting that electoral ways as if they are being capable to reverse or at least stop a  settler colonial project who aims to take over more and more territory, and to replace and displace. In the contrary other means are required to “ defeat” such project, these include initiating a comprehensive non violent campaign with global participation( including the Israeli like minded participation), building Palestinian Community unity and resilience versus fragmentation, and recreating a bottom up Palestinian Municipal structure that will assist also to prepare for the Palestinian independence. Failure of the Palestinian side to launch these kind of alternatives paved the way for the growing voices calling for rotten ideas such as joining the Israeli municipal elections, as being the only salvation for the Palestinian status in the city before being lost!.

Transforming this “ doom day” claim , will require first from those who are calling for it to change direction and to join fully the Palestinian non- violent struggle, and to lend hands to assist building the resilience of the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem according to the needs of those communities rather than according to the imagined forms of these needs by the initiators as it usually take place by different projects that are” targeting”  East Jerusalem Palestinians instead of working according to their real needs.

Besides that all who call for the Palestinian participation in the municipal elections of West Jerusalem should be able to show a respect to the Palestinian municipality of each Jerusalem that still exist since 1967, and reappointed by President Yaser Arafat in 1998, and then by President Mahmoud Abbas in 2012. Those who call for the participation in the Israeli municipal elections should be able to change direction and think instead in how to assist this Palestinian Municipality that is still symbolically exist to become factually existing through creating the connections between it and the East Jerusalem communities, and therefore create one additional step towards disengaging with occupation towards Palestinian independence. Several scenarios were developed in the last few years for how to make this link between the Palestinian municipality and the East Jerusalem communities and most of them are doable. 

Such a change of direction became also more and more required specially after the last January resolution of the PLO Central Council to “revive the Palestinian East Jerusalem Municipality in the basis of the best democractic and Representetive methods that are possible”. Is it possible to express respect of this dicision and to try to find out how to support it towards implementation?.

Besides that major discussion there is the other one of asking East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote to Meretz in order to increase its seats number in the municipality. Such a call leads to a violation to the Palestinian boycott, and it cannot be tenable.  Meretz will be required as it is mostly doing to keep supporting  the Palestinian independence in East Jerusalem and the fullfilment of the Palestinian needs in the city in the basis of its principles towards the two states solution, without waiting to get a reward for that from the victims of its country occupation. 

Finally, in Jerusalem the adminstrative and the political are strongly linked. Here both are intertwined. In Israel the decisions regarding Jerusalem are made by the Government and its ministry for Jerusalem and not from the Municipality only. In Palestine there are a ministry of Jerusalem and PLO department of Jerusalem. Claiming then that the Palestinian participation in the municipal election will not lead to political results that are against the Palestinian rights of independence and building the steps towards it, is a rotten and awkward kind of claim and it’s ramifications were explained above. Further than that Palestinians will not seek for improvement of the services to them within the framework of the” Israeli United Jerusalem” by participation in the Israeli municipal elections, especially when this participation will be also in full contradiction with their political aspirations, and with their daily life needs that they will be better to befulfilled  by sustaining the Palestinian municipality in the city opposite to its 1967 illegal dissolution by Israel.

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad: http://akhbarelbalad.net/ar/1/6/3825/

Photo credit: Getty Images

Published in Tribune

The Israeli settler colonial project started in East Jerusalem in early 1967, directly after the beginning of occupation. During the same period, the Palestinian resistance began as both an armed struggle – as in Gaza mainly from 1967 to 1972 – and a public movement of nonviolent resistance – as in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. In addition to settler colonialism, the Israeli project in East Jerusalem has included a combination of belligerent occupation and apartheid policies.

One of several early settler-colonial projects was the demolition of Al-Sharaf neighborhood inside the Old City, in order to begin the expansion of the Jewish Quarter over its ruins. At the same time, however, the Palestinian Jerusalem Municipality (Amanat al-Quds) rejected its dissolution by the Israeli occupying authorities. Sheikh Abdel Hamid Al Sa’eh, among other personalities, took the initiative to create the first National Guidance Committee, which has led the Palestinian struggle against the occupation since early 1967.*

Later on during the same year, the Israeli Occupation Authorities deported Sheikh Sa’eh to Jordan, but the resistance continued. In Jerusalem, this resistance preserved the Palestinian Islamic and Christian Waqf Institutions’ independence under the leadership of the High Islamic Commission that was established immediately after the 1967 war. The commission worked in tandem with the Christian religious representatives in order to protect the holy places and the religious courts’ independence, and to contribute to the leadership and guidance of the resistance against the occupation.

Using all kinds of creative measures, the Palestinian national institutions in East Jerusalem strove to protect themselves from being taken over by occupation. These included the chamber of commerce, the electricity company, the labor and professional trade unions, Makassed and Augusta Victoria hospitals (among others), and several charitable societies as well as the education sector. In this case the teachers undertook a long, successful strike in order to prevent the imposition of the Israeli curricula as the curricula for education in East Jerusalem schools.

These successes in the early years of occupation were sustained by others in subsequent years. In 1973 the National Front was established in Jerusalem and consisted of national and left-wing factions and parties in addition to national personalities. The National Front led the Palestinian resistance until 1976. Several demonstrations were organized during that period of time, especially by students. A national strike followed the martyrdom of Muntaha Al-Hourani, a schoolgirl from Nablus who was assassinated by Israeli Occupation Forces in 1974. The Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour drew an impressive portrait of her bleeding from the back while lying on the ground in her school uniform.

For the Israeli Occupation Authorities, the combination of the struggle made by the Jerusalem-based National Front – in addition to the students and trade unions, cooperatives, and other organizations under the national front leadership – combined with the Arab Rabat Summit recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, meant that there was a need to make concessions. One of the major concessions was the cancellation of the 1975 plan to establish a civil administration, and the decision to allow the PLO-affiliated personalities to run for the municipal elections in 1976, which resulted in a big victory for a number of important personalities, including Karim Khalaf, Bassam al Shaka’a, and Ibrahim Al-Tawil, who became the mayors of Ramallah, Nablus, and Al Bireh, respectively.

The elected mayors played the role of political guide for the Palestinians and did not limit themselves to the provision of services. In 1978 when the Camp David agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt, the mayors gathered with other personalities and the university student councils, the trade union representatives, and others in the premises of the trade unions in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem, where they declared their rejection of the Camp David Accords and announced the establishment of the second National Guidance Committee.

In the early 1980s, the Israeli Likud-led government decided to dissolve the National Guidance Committee and initiated a war against the elected mayors. In the course of this campaign of persecution, Bassam Shaka’a’s car was bombed in June 1980, which left him in a wheelchair after he had lost parts of his legs and one hand.

At the same time, the Israeli occupation authorities created the so-called village leagues that were connected to the Likud-created Civil Administration. It was led by Hebrew University professor Menahem Milson (between November 1981 and September 1982). He ended up resigning after the utter failure of his experiment to “organize village leaders.” The whole plan failed in all its aspects: To weaken the urban-based PLO supportive leadership on one hand, and to create a leadership that was loyal to Israel on the other hand. In addition, the village leagues were boycotted, even in their own villages, which led to their full collapse a few years later.

As the Israeli government increased settlement expansion, with the number of settlers reaching 111,600 in 1993, it also hired Israeli professors such as Ezra Sadan to develop ideas for economic peace as an alternative to ending the occupation. These additional Likud policies strengthened Palestinian national aspirations and Palestinian support of the PLO, contrary to the aim of the Likud: that “the improvement of living conditions for Palestinians” as it was called then, would lead Palestinians to forget their national aspirations and the confiscation of their land.  

These developments ripened conditions for the eruption of the first Intifada that started in 1987. Jerusalem once again was the center of the Intifada leadership, continuing until the death of the leader Faisal al-Husseini in 2001, and the Israeli closure of the Orient House.

This short overview has shown the centrality of East Jerusalem not only in planning and guiding the Palestinian popular struggle against the occupation from 1967 to 1987, but also in the protection of national institutions, the rejection of any compromise in the struggle for self-determination, and the strengthening and support of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

* A chronology of the Palestinian resistance to occupation can be found in the annual volumes of the Palestinian Diaries and in the Palestinian documents (in Arabic) that were published by the PLO Research Center.

Blurb: After 1967 the Palestinians refused to surrender their national institutions to the Israeli occupiers, continuing the Palestinian struggle for freedom. East Jerusalem was central to such efforts that ended up thwarting Israeli attempts to normalize the occupation and to create an alternative to the PLO. This strengthened the PLO’s status as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.  

Walid Salem is a lecturer on democracy, human rights, and conflict resolution at Al-Quds University, and a PhD candidate in international relations at the Near East University of Northern Cyprus. He is also a member in the PLO Palestinian National Council, and the director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem.

Published in Tribune
Monday, 26 February 2018 22:12

Atomic derby in the Middle East

The Middle East has entered the nuclear age. The existing strategic equilibrium in the Middle East is shifting as the region seeks a new balance, an equipoise which has been in perpetual flux over the past 30 years. The Arab-Israeli and the Iranian-Arab conventional weapons race began in earnest in the mid-1980s. Some countries plunged into nuclear others into biological, chemical and ballistic missile systems. Since then, the new strategic dimensions have become part and parcel of imbalance ever since. Many atomic states are on a hair trigger in the Middle East, which is the most capricious and volatile region which has been witnessing gigantic political transformations in the past two decades.

When American president Donald Trump said that he would revise the nuclear deal with Iran if he wins in the elections, the Middle East has started to change. Many countries started to think of means to get nuclear plants for energy. The question is which countries are making nuclear arms or which countries have the ability to produce them in the Middle East? Two countries for sure: Iran and Israel.

Since 2000s, Middle Eastern countries have voiced their interest to have their own peaceful atomic nuclear programs, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East states have announced their atomic energy plans in response to Iran’s stagy progress towards nuclear supremacy. The reason behind the deal with Iran was to thwart any bids by Tehran to have a bomb which would lead to a nuclear race in the Middle East. 

Doctrinal Shifts

Arab countries’ fears are not far-fetched. They have started changing their military doctrine since1991. Arabs, mainly in the Gulf region, started looking for tactical and strategic non-conventional weapons to make a balance of power with Iran by securing clear inclination for technological advances and institutional torpor and apathy to proceed at their own impetus. The Middle East states, after the gradual pullout of the American troops from the region, have been undergoing a state of transition at all levels — strategic, political and economic, militarily structural to reach the point of “balance of terror” with their enemy: Iran.

Debate over Iran’s nuclear program has heated up since the beginning of 2000s. Even after Tehran reached a nuclear deal with the international community, the USA and other countries still accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear arms. Tehran for its part denies these accusations and says Iranian reactors are for peaceful purposes to produce energy.

Though Israel and other Arab countries tried hard to foil the attempts to sign the nuclear deal with Iran, Middle East countries are heading towards atomic arms race, fueled by fear of Iranian expansionism and resurgence, mainly from Saudis and Emiratis.

Both Israel and the Arab countries have at present one enemy: Iran. Israeli and Arab fears from Iran are much bigger than having a nuclear bomb but rather an existential threat that can turn Tehran into an independent atomic capability.

Proxies ignite nuclear race

Sunnis in the Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, view Iran as a religious risk, fueling proxies and threatening the stability of the Arab world through Tehran’s endeavours to revive Shiite states in the heartland of the Middle East region.  Since Iran is regarded as a political rival since 1979 Revolution, which has been threatening the Arab monarchies, Arabs started to think of having a deterrent weapon that can curb Iran from continuously interfering in their internal affairs and intimidating their people.

In 2016, Al-Riyadh daily commended Saudi Arabia to start preparing an atomic program for peaceful purposes” to have the first Saudi nuclear reactor operational by 2030. Though there are rumors that Riyadh has purchased “off-the-shelf” atomic bomb from Pakistan, this has not been confirmed by either of the two countries. Thus, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East has also dragged other countries.

Middle Eastern states may have genuine reasons and authentic motives to invest in nuclear power. For example, Jordan has almost few quantities of oil and gas; this has prompted the government to ask the Russians to help set up a nuclear power plant to produce energy. However, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have colossal crude reserves. Turkey also imports huge amounts of oil and gas to produce energy. Thus, it is in dire need of nuclear plants for this purpose.

Saudi nuclear plants

Within less than a month, Saudi Arabia will unveil the names of companies winning the tender for the construction of two nuclear power reactors, scheduled to start at the end of this year 2018, in a move Riyadh aims to enter the nuclear club for the first time in its history.

Under the framework of the National Atomic Energy Project, Saudi Arabia aims to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20-25 years, which are to be under the supervision of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and are aimed at enabling the country to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear power.

Washington’s approval for the Saudi move remains one of the main dilemmas facing Riyadh, and it is expected that it will top the agenda of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the United States early March which will take him to other states as well.  Donald Trump’s administration faces a critical position in this regard as negotiations between Saudis and Americans on nuclear energy had reached a deadlock.

The idea to construct nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia is not new; however, the pace accelerated more during the past two years. New motives for Riyadh have crystallised to proceed with the construction of nuclear reactors, particularly in the aftermath of the agreement signed with Iran during Obama’s administration, which hampered negotiations between Riyadh and Washington. Some analysts in the White House believe that the deal with Iran “made it difficult to force Saudi Arabia to abide by law 123.”

Trump’s two options

Trump knows that American companies are competing with Korean, Chinese and Russian. If he seeks to support the American companies in this deal, he has to give the green light when Prince Mohammad bin Salman visits Washington in March 2018. With this he has to abandon certain controls that restrict nuclear proliferation. Thus, if Saudis reach agreement without any restrictions, it would be a remarkable shift in US nuclear policy since 50 years. Analysts view this case as a new test for Trump’s negotiating skill as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner who visited Riyadh several times.

It seems that Kushner has prepared well in anticipation of the upcoming visit of Mohammed bin Salman to Washington to conclude the deal in favor of “Westinghouse” company.

Russian, American and Korean rivalry

November 2017, Russia’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, expressed Rosatom’s interest to be involved in building nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.

The company presented its offer during the meeting of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz with Novak, and discussed ways to strengthen and develop bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy.

The Russian company has applied to participate in the construction of two nuclear reactors in the Kingdom. In mid-December 2017, Moscow and Riyadh signed a roadmap for cooperation in the field of “peaceful nuclear energy” to promote cooperation in the field of atomic power.

The signing of the road map has coincided with Riyadh’s announcement that it intends to build 16 hydroelectric reactors over a period of 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, as well as other small desalination plants.

On the other hand, a Saudi-Korean meeting revealed several months ago the completion of more than 20% of the engineering designs of the SMART reactor and the completion of the success of the first and second stages of the human development program for Saudi engineers participating in the project.

Nuclear power in Jordan 

Jordan imports over 95 per cent of its power requirements, at a cost of about 20 per cent of its GDP. In 2007, Jordan set out a program for atomic energy to provide 30 per cent of electricity by 2030. In 2015, Jordan signed a US$10 billion agreement with Russia to construct the first nuclear power plant in the kingdom with two reactors to produce 1,000 megawatt power. The construct is expected to finish by 2022. According to the agreement, Jordan will buy fuel from Rosatom for both reactors for 10 years.

UAE first nuclear plant to open summer 2018

The UAE is due launch the Arab world’s first nuclear power station in summer 2018; the other three plants will be commissioned by 2020. Once the four nuclear power plants are fully operational, they will produce 25 per cent of the country’s electricity demand. By 2050, The Barakah nuclear plant will deliver up 50 percent of the country’s power requirements. The UAE has committed not to enrich uranium itself and not to reprocess spent fuel.

Egyptian nuclear program

Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Cairo on December 11, 2017 with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi where a delegation from both countries signed an agreement to launch Egypt’s atomic energy plant at El -Dabaa. Rosatom has announced that construction work on the El-Dabaa plant, which is located west of Alexandria, had started end of December. The Russian company will service the plant’s four reactors for 60 years.

To sum up, the major countries surrounding Israel and Iran are setting out plans to have their nuclear power plants. If Sunni Arabs become nuclear-armed or even just nuclear-capable, the strategic advantage Israel has enjoyed for more than 40 years will disappear and the ballistic missile technology that Iran prides itself with will vanish. Though the Israelis know that the Arab target is Tehran not Tel Aviv, will the Israelis approve the nuclear trend of the Middle East? Failure to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement or a settlement to the current Arab-Iranian conflict would lead to further escalation and tension, a prelude to armed conflict or external intervention.

Published in Tribune
Monday, 19 February 2018 21:33

Russia plays kingmaker in the Middle East

While US representatives are going to Middle Eastern countries to discuss American concerns, the region’s leaders are visiting Russia. In the space of about two weeks, Russia has hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke on the phone with Saudi King Salman.

Netanyahu failed to persuade Putin about anything regarding Iran’s presence in Syria, in the wake of Israeli airstrikes against Iranian and Syrian military facilities. Abbas arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for talks on Jerusalem and a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “From now on, we refuse to cooperate in any form with the US in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions,” Abbas told Putin.

The US has lost credibility as a mediator, having obviously taken sides in the conflict, and having threatened and blackmailed the Palestinians, which is unacceptable. Washington will not be happy with a stronger Russian role in settling the conflict, but Moscow will not retreat.

King Abdullah headed to Russia’s capital on Wednesday to boost bilateral ties, after meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It has been about a year since the monarch’s last visit to Russia, and it is his 19th to the country since 2001, making him the most frequent visitor of any head of state.

The king’s current visit is of great importance, because it comes at a time when the Middle East is beset by clashes, including between Syrian and Israeli forces near the Jordanian border, and after US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The king seeks Russian intelligence cooperation to confront terrorism and extremism, and Putin’s personal support on Jerusalem.

Full-scale Moscow-Amman cooperation, based on mutual trust and respect, may bring balance to regional affairs.

– Maria Dubovikova

In the past few days, after the confrontation between Israeli, Syrian and Iranian forces in southwest Syria increased the possibility of direct warfare, it has become clear that if Russia did not intervene to calm tensions, things would have escalated. This could have affected the borders of Jordan, Syria, Israel and Lebanon.

“I do feel that the international community has let down our people, who have paid and shouldered the burden of responsibility of 20 percent of our country of Syrian refugees, of other refugees that have come through,” the king told Russia’s TASS agency on the eve of his visit.

Jordanians’ economic concerns were the impetus behind his visit; he does not want any political or military escalation on the Jordanian-Israeli-Syrian border that may add to his people’s frustration. Any escalation could engulf the whole region in a new, possibly endless, war.

The king wants assurances from Putin on the agreed-upon de-escalation zones, mainly in southern Syria. So he will ask Putin for the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the Jordanian-Syrian border, and away from the disengagement line in the Golan Heights.

Of all the countries neighboring Syria, Jordan has been the most cautious since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011. Amman was deeply concerned about the threat of widespread instability and violence. Its response to developments in Syria was driven primarily by concerns about the potential security and political impact of the crisis on the kingdom, not to mention the fact that there are more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Jordan.

King Abdullah discussed with Putin the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the aftermath of America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and its intention to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. The two-state solution, which the king believes in, is the best solution to the conflict. He wants Putin to work on such a solution, and to keep the issue of Jerusalem until final-status negotiations.

The beneficiaries of any delay in a political solution to the Palestinian issue are extremists on both sides.

Russia and Jordan fully agree on this matter. The king believes that resolving the Palestinian issue requires US-Russian coordination.

Full-scale Russian-Jordanian cooperation, based on mutual trust and respect, may bring balance to regional affairs. Russia’s politics have proven consistent and Jordan is becoming a particularly important regional player, with balanced policies.

Article published in Arab News: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1247946/columns

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 18:23

Russia and Israel: trust despite disagreements

There is a high degree of trust in the Russian-Israeli relations, Valdai Club expert Irina Zvyagelskaya believes. “We have disagreements on Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But we can maintain good relations despite these disagreements and understand each other’s concerns,” she said in an interview with valdaiclub.com.

On January 29, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow and met with Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu’s aide Zeev Elkin described the trip as “very important.” “As always, such visits are very effective and, as always, effectiveness is due to the fact that the content of the talks remains between the two leaders,” he said in an interview with the Israeli Russian-language Ninth Channel. In turn, Russian president’s aide Yuri Ushakov said that the two leaders discussed bilateral relations and regional problems, including the Syrian settlement.

“The situation in Syria was discussed in several aspects indeed,” Irina Zvyagelskaya, chief researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with valdaiclub.com. “One aspect is our interaction, prevention of incidents. There is exchange of information between the military structures and this is of great importance for both sides. But the role of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria remains a much more painful issue for Israel. Israel maintains a very tough stance on this issue, fearing Iran’s strengthening near its borders.”

Because of the Hezbollah presence on the Lebanese-Israeli border, Israel has been saying for a long time that Iran is in his backyard, Zvyagelskaya stressed. Moreover, Israel and the Islamic movement have reached a level of mutual deterrence, which is unique in such an asymmetric conflict with military formations of Hezbollah not being a regular army.

According to Zvyagelskaya, “Israel’s top priority is its own security. It seeks to protect itself with methods it considers acceptable, and wants to have as few restrictions as possible in this regard,” she said.

“For our part, Russia cannot and should not become part of the complex system of regional relations,” Zvyagelskaya stressed. “We should resist attempts to make us part of the contradictions that exist there. Our position is that we are interested in stabilization in Syria and preservation of its statehood, that the country should not again turn into a hotbed of international terrorism.”

Another important aspect of the visit was, according to the expert, the fact that Netanyahu and Putin took part in events dedicated to the Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. “Israel is categorically against rewriting the results of the World War II, and pays tribute to the Red Army and heroism of Soviet people during the war,” she said. “On this, we find a common language, especially because Red Army veterans who fought during the war still live in Israel.”

According to Zvyagelskaya, there is a high degree of trust in the two states’ relations. “We have disagreements on Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But we can maintain good relations despite these disagreements and understand each other’s concerns,” she concluded.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/russia-and-israel-trust-disagreements/

Photo credit: SPUTNIK/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS

Published in Tribune

During his 30th of January participation in the opening ceremony of a new bypass road that links Binyamin block settlements in the West Bank with the city of Kfar Saba inside Israel, Mr Netanyahu the Prime Minister of Israel spoke about the “ Jewish return to their homeland” by building and creating roads and routes of transportation” Here in the heart of Israel as he said”. Besides this kind of well known repeated statements about the ongoing process of creating the” Greater Israel” on the expense of the Palestinians, Mr Netanyahu presented a new theme concerning his government aim “ To cancel and simply dissolve the concept of the periphery”. The meaning of that of course is “ dissolving the Palestinian country life”.

In its path towards an Israeli one state solution, today Netanyahu government feels that it succeeded in taking over Area C consisting of two third of the West Bank in addition to East Jerusalem( continuously expanding in the expense of West Bank) and Hebron 2( The Old City of Hebron that is under Israeli full control), and the Jordan valley. That all besides moving the Palestinian Refugees issues out of the table, while also it got earlier a free hand in regard to its policies towards the Palestinians indigenous population inside Israel. 

For that government the next ongoing step is about eliminating the Palestinians villages, by the two means of demographic elimination, and the landscape elimination. Worthy to mention here that these villages already lost their agricultural lands located in area C, or behind the separation wall.

There are different examples regarding the attempts for demographic elimination. One of the last examples is the ongoing voting in the Israeli Knesset for ousting Kufr Aqab, and Shu’afat Refugee Camp from Jerusalem, and the second is about the settlers attacks against the Palestinian villages in order to frighten them and push them to leave. One of the last examples regarding this is the settlers attack against Azzoun village close to Qalqilia leaving 60 people injured last month and the attacks on Hizma village near Jerusalem by the Israeli army including putting gates on its entrance. All this following the continuous evacuations of the Palestinian Bedouins from Area C, and preventing the Gazans to build or even to cultivate their lands that are adjacent to the borders with Israel.

These demographic elimination acts add up to the changing and the elimination of the landscape. Besides them the landscape is changed also by the separation wall, cutting the trees, expanding the settlements, preventing people from cultivating their lands in some areas, creating bypass roads, and other means. Now Mr Netanyahu came to tell openly what was the original aim of all of these steps. The aim was not security of the Israelis, but in the contrary: Security was used as a justification to expand the settlements infrastructure in the path of Israelizng the West Bank and to make it follow East Jerusalem in this regard.

Other charicteristic in Mr Netanyahu speech is that he talked about the periphery as a landscape, forgetting to mention the indegenous people who live in that landscape. For him neither these people, nor their rights count. For him they are just an obstacle that a solution might be found to it by either removing them from one location to other( as happening with the Bedouins), or by secondly evacuating them(Formerly Al Aqaba village close to Jenin and the old cities of Jerusalem and Hebron as examples, and currently Sosia village close to Hebron as one example.Finally and thirdly by simply destroying the villages as happened with the three villages of Yalo, Emuas and Beit Noba in 1967. 

The other charecteristic of Netanyahu statement is related to the racist concept of considering Palestine as a barren land (from the civilized). Therefore it is the responsibility of the civilized to “ modernize” it by “ dissolving the periphery” and getting rid of the non-civilized through this process.

As such, Israel looks to be already crossed the threshold between compromising the fate of the Palestinian occupied Territories through negotiations, and annexing them to Israel.Today Israel acts on the basis that East Jerusalem and West Bank are integral parts of Israel. In this regard the difference between East Jerusalem and West Bank Israeli politics is in that Jerusalem is annexed officially to Israel, and therefore the Palestinians of East Jerusalem carry an Israeli blue identity cards that give them the status of “ Jordanians citizens residing permanently in Israel”, while the West Bank people do not have such ID’s. Besides this difference the rest of the policies are the same towards both West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Confronting these kinds of moves will require another kind of policies that are bottom up rather than top down, and that is by helping the Palestinians to create their facts in the ground, and standing strongly( in the ground, and not by only statements) against the Israeli steps of Israelization. The calls for the sides to go back to negotiations only while Israel is grabbing Palestine in the ground is certainly a very bad policy. Instead of moving forward it gives “ longer time out to Israel” to complete the Israelization process. 

Further than that association agreements with Palestine, more recognitions of it, and more elevation of it in the international arena is badly needed as a complimentary to building Palestine in the ground and not as a contrary to the latter.

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad

Photo credit: Reuters

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 20:02

US national security strategy: facta, non verba

By using a geostrategic approach that combines old rhetoric with the status quo, US President Trump's new "National Security Strategy" (NSS) which was published on December 18, 2017, seems to raise many questions that match the number of answers he provides on how his administration conducts foreign policy especially from the viewpoint of the Great Middle East countries, Russia and China as well as North Korea which are very interested in the new NSS for being decisive for their future. The new NSS hinges on the American National Security Policy for 1940s though the present one focuses more on the economic factor, military power competition compared to pre-Trump administrations. 

The good news is that this view avoids isolationism at a time it seems to correct some impurities and illuminate some of the ambiguities of modern US foreign policy, either by stressing the dangers of China and Russia, by not emphasizing global "good deeds", or by rejecting the idea that the universal triumph of liberal values is inevitable. Thus, Trump’s NSS document explicitly singles out “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence”. 

However, the NSS has not been able to answer some questions:  Is there a global order that contributes more than American interests, it the world order wroth defending it?

Unlike former NSS, there is a conviction that the new "strategy" emanates from the president himself, making it far more important than those documents that have been issued irregularly. Trump had repeatedly raised questions about the essential content of American involvement in international affairs. Each national security strategy must answer two key questions: What is the central vision of American role in the world? What tools and policies should be used to strengthen this vision? This NSS reflects more nationalist view as it poses “America first” compared to previous policy documents with less national tone. Trump’s NSS plainly stresses the conventional American role and reaction to vital US interests and those of the international community. 

The answer to these questions lies in what Trump refrained from commenting on. Previous American President Barack Obama’s administration has issued two different documents on the NSS in 2010 and 2015; however, it has maintained the following language to describe American main national interests which is “an international norm-based system provided by the US leadership to promote peace, security and opportunity through stronger cooperation to address global challenges”. This does not exist in Trump’s policy document.

Thus, the organizational vision of the new NSS does not appear to be a global but rather a view from the 19th century which represents the view of one of the Great Powers in that epoch. In other words, the new NSS is based on the 19th century mentality to compete for power as a fundamental continuity for the USA to be a leading country. This way of thinking sounds which suggests more globalization appears to be in one of the four pillars of the document: to "push the US influence forward," “to turn the American influence in the world as a positive force for the sake of achieving peace, prosperity and society progress, “to establish partnerships with those who share aspirations for freedom and prosperity with the USA” and “to ally with those whom the US considers a great force and a positive addition to its policy worldwide”.

As per analysis and prognosis of the NSS, the present American policy shows that America will be facing 3 key rivals in the world: First, military and economic rivals: Russia and China, second the “rogue states: Iran and North Korea, and transnational groups and organisations represented by extremist, terrorist and jihadist factions which are all competing to terrify the Americans and their allies and gain more at the expense of the Americans. Moreover, the political conflicts between those who favor repressive regimes and those who favor free societies are also on the priorities of Trump in his NSS document.

Thus, what is required of countries in the Greater Middle East? Those who are US allies such as some Arab states are benefitting from the NSS new document while those who are not benefitting from it such as Iran and its advocates in the Greater Middle East are not content with what Trump is seeking to achieve. 

In Trump’s NSS the Middle East has been allotted one short section covering Iranian expansionism, the collapse of states and regimes in the Middle East, jihadist ideology, social stability, economic stagnation and terrorism without giving any way out of the Middle East conflict but leaving the space wide open for further interventions and misconceptions.

“North Korea seeks the capability to kill millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. Iran supports terrorist groups and openly calls for our destruction. Jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida are determined to attack the United States and radicalize Americans with their hateful ideology. Non-state actors undermine social order through drug and human trafficking networks, which they use to commit violent crimes and kill thousands of American each year”. 

From the perspective of North Korea and Iran, the obvious answer is that these states do not challenge the United States as much as they challenge the fake world order which has been unilateral for decades, and which has been facing a geopolitical gap since 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Americans have to form an alliance to liberate Kuwait from Iraq at that time which has led to Iranian military intervention in Iraq to safeguard its national interest. The NSS document scored the following as stated in page 49 of the document against Iran:

“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence through partners and proxies, weapon proliferation, and funding. It continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles and intelligence capabilities, and it undertakes malicious cyber activities. These activities have continued unabated since the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence in the region, causing grievous harm to civilian populations. Rival states are filling vacuums created by state collapse and prolonged regional conflict”. 

As for North Korea, it has considered itself under the threat from the South Korean government where a huge American base is located. North Korea’s communist regime has responded to Trump’s (NSS) with a statement from its foreign ministry condemning the document as “a typical outcome of the Yankee-style arrogance” and dismissing all of America as “a corpse.”

To address Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programmes, the NSS said Washington will augment its ballistic missile defence efforts and seek new methods to stop missiles before they are launched. On the other hand, .North Korean foreign ministry accused “previous U.S. administrations” of throwing “all the agreements reached with us into a garbage can like waste paper” and rejected the use of the term “rogue state” against them.

“For U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the NSS suggests the strategic importance this region has for the United States. For instance, the NSS signals that this administration considers the Indo-Pacific region the most strategically important geographical area by referring to the region at the top of the section devoted to discussing the regional implications of its “America First National Security Strategy.” The Indo-Pacific appears ahead of the Middle East, which has dominated past U.S. administrations’ strategic attention”. 

The most important conclusion to be drawn from this new NSS is that Trump administration officially declares its position and supports two apparently contradictory matters: The pivotal vision that largely deviates from the emphasis of the "world order" and the group of values that this NSS should serve at the international level.

In other words, Trump’s NSS vision lacks realistic perspective to deal with critical matters and issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, terrorism, how to counter terrorism and democratisation without leading to the sudden surprising collapse of regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that would lead to total anarchy and mass killing of innocent people and displacement of millions of citizens.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/us-national-security-strategy-facta-non-verba/

Photo credit: Virginia Mayo/AP

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 24 December 2017 04:46

Russia ready to fill Middle East void

US President Donald Trump, who next month celebrates his first year in office, has formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has ended decades of American diplomacy by ordering the State Department to prepare for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, drawing anger and despair from people and leaders throughout the world, who now expect a possible third uprising in the Occupied Territories, the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, the strengthening of extremists and an effect on the standing of the US in the world, mainly in the Middle East.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was one of his presidential campaign promises, but hardly anyone imagined it would be among those he kept.

Last week’s announcement turned Washington into a dishonest broker in any future talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, opening the door wide for Arabs to seek Russian, Chinese and European support.

Though Trump received many warnings from Arab and European leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he insisted on his decision to move the embassy.

The Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which were signed in 1993 in the White House by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with the attendance of then-President Bill Clinton, stated that the final status of Jerusalem had to be settled by negotiations.

The dominant majority of the international community has condemned this decision and called on the White House to revise it.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterised it as “defying common sense”, while President Vladimir Putin shared his deep concerns. Putin phoned his Turkish counterpart following Trump’s announcement, calling for the Palestinians and Israelis to “hold back” and to renew talks. 

Putin had a short trip to the Middle East on Monday, paying an unexpected visit to Syria, notably the Khmeimim air base, where he met Bashar Assad and ordered Russian troops’ partial withdrawal from Syria. After that, he held talks with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The issue of Jerusalem and the future of the peace talks were among the important topics that were discussed.

Putin’s surprise visit boosts country’s standing in the region amid fallout from US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

– Maria Dubovikova

The current situation gives great opportunities to Russia to strengthen its position in the Arab world. Russia has proved to be an honest peace broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks for years — its position is unbiased and unchangeable. The US manoeuver permits Russia to fill the void, attracting the region’s countries into its network of cooperation. 

Putin is seizing these opportunities with his brief Middle Eastern tour. Turkey, which is also gaining power in the region, is becoming a key partner for Russia. After the collapse of their bilateral relations following the downing of a Russian jet on the Syria-Turkey border two years ago, their relationship has been fully restored, and has even reached new levels. At the same time, Turkey is one of the few countries which permits itself to use tough rhetoric against the West, and it expressed in a threatening way its disagreement with the White House’s decision on Jerusalem. Russia stands by the side of President Erdogan and other leaders in the region, thus getting into an advantageous position.

The US is deeply involved in all Arab countries politically, militarily, economically and financially, but it arguably has a track record in sowing instability with notorious regime-change policies. Taking this into account, the Arabs are now grappling with the mistakes they made in previous decades.

The issue of moving the embassy dates back to 1995, when the US Congress passed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But that bill includes an item that allows US presidents to effectively postpone the transfer decision for six months to protect American national security interests. US presidents have been postponing this decision ever since.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is merely symbolic, but it is an adequate reason for possible further chaos in the Middle East.

Palestinians feel they have been negotiating for peace for more than 20 years and have ended up with zero result. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process ended irreversibly with the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it is a bizarre decision, but how can the Arab world reverse it?

Published in Tribune
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