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
Friday, 15 December 2017 00:10

Trump's Double Toe Loop

The recent decision of President Donald Trump with regard to Jerusalem is just one more surprise in the endless series of surprises in the Middle East. Numerous analysts overlook the fact that there are actually two separate parts to the decision, which has proved fateful for the Middle East. It is a double toe loop. The first part is about recognizing the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while the second is about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These two points are interrelated. More than this, one seems to logically stem from the other. But, as they say, opinions may differ.

 

While the situation in the White House has been evolving precisely in this direction ever since Trump's election, I must admit that, until the last moment, I did not want to believe that the president would take such a reckless step. There is no doubt that the move was made under the strong influence of a small group of incompetent people who determine Trump’s Middle Eastern Policy (leading U.S. experts specializing in the region that I have had a chance to talk with see them as incompetent). Their names are well known, as is the motivation behind their recommendations to the President of the United States, who quite enjoys surprising everybody. At least three of them are believed to be supporters of radical right-wing forces in Israel. Shibley Telhami, a Washington-based analyst at the Brookings Institution, wrote: “His advisors live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience.” At the same time, polls indicate that 81 per cent of Americans, including 71 per cent of Republicans, would prefer Trump to rely on experts in Middle Eastern diplomacy, not inexperienced members of his family and personal lawyers.

It is true that Trump is not abandoning his policy of seeking a truce between Israel and Palestine. However, if we are to believe a leaked plan allegedly devised by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and submitted by the latter to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salmad Al Saud, handing East Jerusalem over to the Palestinians as the capital of their future state (which appears to be nothing more than a handful of scattered territories). It is hard to imagine any Palestinian leader agreeing to such a plan. There are far more painless and certainly less disgraceful ways to commit suicide. On the other hand, as Steven Simon, former United States National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, states in an article for The New York Times International Edition, “For all the talk from successive administrations, a Palestinian-Israeli peace has never been a strategic imperative for Washington”.

Let us list just a few of the possible consequences of Trump’s decisions.

Trump’s decision to bury the already modest results secured by Barack Obama to improve Washington’s relations with the Islamic and Arabic worlds, shape an image of the United States that is not guided by Israel in its foreign policy and set a course that can be defined as neutral with regard to the conflict in the Middle East.

It delivers a deadly blow to the war on terror, and raises the threat of terrorist, extremist and radical religious and nationalist organizations to mobilize new supporters, with terrorists and extremists taking advantage of the desperation of the Palestinians and the fury of Muslims.

It also undermines the reputation of the United Nations, the significance of the UN Security Council’s resolutions (which were passed with the participation of the United States) and, in the broader sense, international law.

It also affects the Middle East Quartet, which was on its last legs as it was, and is now a good as dead. Any attempts to resuscitate the format would be futile. Equally irrecoverable is one of the few channels of constructive foreign political interaction between Russia and the United States. This work needs to be continued, but merely for the sake of the process. There certainly will be no results.

It also undermines the positions of the moderate Palestinian leaders, who are already having a difficult time defending their views before their more radically inclined fellow countrymen.

It also damages the reputation of the allies of the United States around the world and in the Middle East, weakening the United States’ partnership with a number of influential Islamic states – states which had until now been the country’s closest partners. We are talking primarily here about Turkey, a NATO member. The partnership will probably remain, but there will be no more trust. On December 8, Le Figaro published the following headline about Trump’s demarche: “The U.S. President isolates his country in the international arena by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” President of France Emmanuel Macron stated in no uncertain terms that Trump’s decision contravened the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, which does not seem to bother the President of the United States. On the contrary, he appears to derive some kind of pleasure from it. It will be difficult for the Gulf monarchies, which are closely linked to the United States and are now starting to court Israel. Jordan, which is living through difficult times of its own, appears to be in a particularly difficult situation.

Trump’s decision strengthens the positions of Iran, the exact opposite to what the President of the United States wants. We are reminded of 2003, when the United States’ invasion of Iraq made Iran the most influential external force in that country.

 

The decision is ruining the very concept of the Middle Eastern peace process, which contains such issues as refugees, borders and Jerusalem (the most important and difficult issue), all of which lying at the core of the talks on the so-called final status.

The wave of violence caused by Trump’s decision will be difficult to stop, as the U.S. President does not back down from his word. Anti-U.S. sentiments will continue to mount in the Islamic world, which will put the lives of American citizens at risk. The threat does not just come from the Middle East, but also from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.

Trump is doing a disservice to Israel, which needs peace with Palestine in order to secure a safe and comfortable life for its citizens.

Talking about the possible variants, some of my colleagues, the most authoritative American experts on the region, are attempting to move Trump to rectify the damage that his decision has most definitely done to the interests of the United States. In particular, Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and now a professor at Princeton University, suggested in an article for the New York Daily News that Trump did not have to repeal the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. All he had to do was announce that, in the future, when the plan to create two states in Palestine is implemented, he would also recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Trump might also announce that, following the implementation of this plan, he would open a U.S. embassy to that new state in Jerusalem. It is, however, unlikely that the overconfident President will heed the voices of those naively aiming to “correct” his policy.

Why does Trump Need This? And Why is he Doing it Now?

Some believe that Trump wants to suck up to Israel’s right wing (even though much seems have already been done in that direction), and to Netanyahu in particular, who might capitalize on this and avoid prosecution. On the other hand, Trump, as people have come to believe, is primarily guided by domestic policy considerations. Polls carried out by the University of Maryland in November 2017 indicate that 59 per cent of Americans would prefer for the president to abstain from taking sides in the Israel–Palestine conflict. In addition, 57 per cent, including a majority of Republicans, believe he is leaning towards Israel. Another survey, conducted by the Brookings Institution, indicates that 63 per cent of those polled, including 44 per cent of Republicans, are against moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even among the respondents who represent Trump’s main beacon of support in U.S. society, Evangelist Christians, only 53 per cent support the moving of the embassy, with as much as 40 per cent being against the move.

Or does he want to appease the Evangelicals? But we have already seen that not everything is clear-cut with the Evangelicals. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is targeting this segment of U.S. society. According to Steven Simon, Netanyahu believes that the next generation of Americans, or the one after that, will no longer contain liberal Jews, and that Evangelical Christians alongside Orthodox Jews will stand up to counteract America’s pressure on Israel.

 

Or is Trump’s idea to simply shock the international community once again, forcing it to live with any decision that may take his fancy, even the most extravagant ones?

If Netanyahu hopes that the common interest of Israel and Saudi Arabia to restrain Iran will force King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad to reconcile with the fact that all hopes have been lost for retaining Muslim control over at least some part of the third most significant city in the country (after Mecca and Medina), he is obviously wrong. Israel, and the United States in particular, have always underestimated the central place the Jerusalem issue takes in the eyes of Muslims. It is true that the Saudi Arabian rulers currently view Iran as a greater problem for themselves and the region than the Israel–Palestine conflict. However, the Saudi leader cannot possibly lose Jerusalem. James Dorsey, a well-known Singapore-based expert on the Middle East, believes that Mr. Trump’s recognition and any plan to grant Israel full control of Jerusalem would see the genie turning on the kingdom and its ruling family

It appears that the events in the region are giving Russia a window of opportunity just in time to revitalize the country’s weighted and respectful attitude towards all of its Middle Eastern partners and highlight its role as a unique mediator in conflicts.

They say that an experienced figure skater can do a double toe loop easily. Could the same be said of the President of the United States?

Article published in RIAC: http://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/dvoynoy-tulup-trampa/

Фото: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Published in Tribune

December 9, 2017 was the 30th year anniversary of the first Intifada. So far, the Palestinian responses of yesterday took three tracks: Diplomatic, nonviolent, and violent. Here is a description of each, and I will close with some conclusions.

The diplomatic track included two crucial steps that were taken immediately: One is cutting the relations with the US administration, and the declaration by Azzam Al Ahmad, member of the central committee of Fateh, that President Abbas will not meet Mike Pence on December 19 in Bethlehem as was scheduled. The second was about submitting a complaint to the UN Security Council by the PLO Mission to the UN against the USA. It is said that point 3 of the article number 27 of the UN Security Council does not allow the USA to use the veto right against a complaint submitted against it. It is also said that nevertheless if the veto will be used, then the next step will be about going to the UN General Assembly to make a resolution under the “United for Peace” clause, which will be an obligatory resolution. 

The nonviolent track expressed itself through the hundreds of demonstrations that took place yesterday in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

At the same time rockets were launched to Israel from Gaza, this time by Al Qaida and ISIS-affiliated groups. Hamas called for an Intifada without defining clearly its tools, while the Islamic Jihad and the PFLP called for struggle against the Israeli occupation by all means. 

These three tracks have the following significance: 

The new diplomatic track of cutting contacts with the Americans, if it continues, will mean the end of counting on negotiations as the path to the Palestinian statehood, and going instead to the path of popular resistance (as it was called by Jibril Rajoub in his recent interview with Al Arabiyya), and motivating the Arab world and the international community to take steps against the Israeli occupation and to pressure the United States by using all the diplomatic and the legal means in that direction.

The nonviolent track will be, like it or not, confused with the violent ones. The reasons for this confusion is manifold. In this regard, they are not only about the inability of the Palestinian young people to be fully rational when they are in a mood of rage and anger, but there is something deeper that has to do with the full collapse of trust in the political process of negotiations and its bitter harvest over the last 26 years since the Madrid Conference. Accordingly, it is time for the political leadership to plan and lead a full and continuous nonviolent campaign. 

In order for the leadership to be able to convince its people to do so, it will need international support by giving it some concrete results to present to its people, such as more recognitions for the Palestinian State, building Palestinian facts on the ground in area C and East Jerusalem, rebuilding Gaza, creating free access between Gaza and West Bank, and finally taking care of the dignity of the Palestinian refugees until their right of return issue is solved. The non-achievement of these steps will create the conditions that are conducive to growth of violent extremist groups in both West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab neighbouring countries as well.

Article published in Valdai club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/trump-declaration-and-the-palestinian-response/

Published in Tribune

President Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem represents a crucial change in the American policy. This change can be described as a shift from the previous biased mediator position to the new position of the partner of Israel in its plans towards the Palestinians.

 This shift is not only a violation of the international law and the UN resolutions regarding Jerusalem, but also a violation of the 1993 Declaration of principles, signed in the White House and known as the Oslo Accords. According to that Agreement (Article 5), Jerusalem as a whole, including its East and West parts, will be subject to negotiations between the two sides. The agreement also warned against any procedures to be taken unilatarely in a way that would prejudice against the permanent status issues including Jerusalem. President Trump unilaterally decided to go beyond this Oslo commitment and to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before an agreement about its borders and its division between the two sides. This is a crucial violation.

 

Process-wise, this move to unilateralism goes against the multilateral/international concerted efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As such, it will give the Israeli government additional motives to increase its unilateral steps to change the landscape of Jerusalem in a way that will leave no place and no space for the East Jerusalem Palestinians in the city. They will face more and more ethnic cleansing and forced migration. Different means will be used in this regard such as evacuation of the Bedouin neighborhoods around Jerusalem, ousting Palestinian communities from the city (such as Kufur Aqab, and Shufat Refugee camps), and identity cards confiscation. 

 The response to this American move might take one of two shapes: the first is to give President Trump a chance to develop the “ultimate deal” and present it to the parties in the coming months. Those who adopt such a position say that President Trump referred in his speech to the two-states solution, the preparation for the deal, and that the borders of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem will be decided by negotiations. That is in addition to his call for preservation of the status of the Holy places in Jerusalem.

The second argues that the hopes on the Americans to present a solution is over after 26 years of trial and error in the negotiations since Madrid 1991 conference till today. As such, this response calls for adoption of another path: to get to the Palestinian State in the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. It includes creating a Palestinian nonviolent campaign for independence, establishing Palestinian facts on the ground, especially in area C, Gaza and East Jerusalem, linking Gaza and West Bank together, promoting the Palestinian people’s unity, stuggling for more international recognition of the State of Palestine, and suing occupation in international courts.

The second looks to be a path for the creation of a new momentum towards Palestinian statehood. It advocates that the Palestinians should start this path, and then to ask the international community to support it as a path to their national emancipation.

As such, the second position argues the hit can be transformed into an opportunity for the Palestinians to get their right of self-determination in their independent state.

Article published in Valdai Club: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/trump-s-decision-on-jerusalem/

Photo credit: Mohammed Zaatari/AP

Published in Tribune

In today’s speech president Trump announced his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without giving details about to which part of Jerusalem, but it is expected to be moved to East Jerusalem. His declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel will have a very negative effect on the peace process, and may even freeze it for the time being, opening the gates for extremists and radicals who will start working underground and even openly. They will be having hubs and will be harbored by many people. In the past they were working secretly and now they will be overtly operating against American and Israeli interests throughout the world. This deal between the Americans and Israel could not happen without an Arab approval of what is called the “Big Deal”, which means that the Palestinians would be having their own capital in Abu Dis, which is located near Jerusalem city. This could not have happened without this kind of deal, without some Arabs. The Palestinians will not be having their own independent state, which they were dreaming of in 1995 when they signed Oslo agreement. Back then the White House already believed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, even though the other presidents of the US did not have the courage to announce it since then. But Donald Trump announced it without even thinking of any consequences and repercussions that would happen. That is why before he announced it, he asked the military, American Marines, to be ready for any outcome that would take place in the Middle East or anywhere in the world.

 

 

Photo credit: Renewer/Fotolia

 

Published in Commentaries

Trump occupies his post for already a year and during this time his Middle-Eastern politics has become an object of heated criticism from active and retired diplomats, Middle-Eastern experts and political scientists. There is even an opinion that Trump, unfortunately, listens more to his relatives, so it is unclear where the White House ends and where Trump’s family begins. He listens more to the opinions of unqualified people on the Middle East, than to the experienced diplomats. Moreover, the situation in the Department of State remains rather volatile. Despite one year has already passed, many offices remain unoccupied and Tillerson prefers a rather authoritarian mode of management, without listening to the Middle-Eastern specialists. At the same time there are several points of disagreement between Tillerson and Trump on the Middle East, which have become public.

Speaking about this very decision, now I can say that there is absolutely no logic in it. Even from the point of view of the US national interests in the region. There is an opinion that many of Trump’s advisers have planted in his mind an idea that now the situation in the Arab world has changed so much that the Arab states do not pay attention to the Palestinian issue and that his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize this city as Israel’s capital will not provoke backlash in the Arab world. He thinks that maybe Arabs will have some minor protests, but not like in the 50ies and 60ies. Probably, such thoughts made Trump pass such decision. But there is absolutely not logic in it, and the reaction of Arab states, even of Saudi Arabia that now established special relations with Israel, of Iraq, Egypt, of European states like France, is naturally negative and will complicate the resolution of many other regional issues. This will hamper Trumps policy not only in the Palestinian-Israeli dimension, but also in Europe and in the Islamic world as a whole.

Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP

Published in Commentaries
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