Jerusalem Post Opinion
PEACE WHEN JEWS AND ARABS EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN TOGETHER
BYREBECCA BARDACH MARCH 22, 2017 22:02
“We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
Golda Meir was one of my heroes growing up – a smart Jewish woman who worked tirelessly, selflessly, on behalf of the Jewish People to secure the establishment and security of the State of Israel. So I was taken by surprise when my children’s school principal, Nadia Kinani, came in to school one day deeply upset after visiting another local school, which had these oft-quoted words of Golda Meir embedded in a huge mural at the school’s entrance: “We will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
Nadia is an Arab mother. She has spent the past 20 years of her life helping found and develop a Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual school in Jerusalem. At the time, this was almost unprecedented in Israel. She and other teachers had to innovate pedagogical approaches so students could learn each other’s languages, traditions, cultures and histories, while helping them commit to a shared future. Even now there are only nine such Jewish-Arab schools in all of Israel.
Seeing Golda Meir’s quote through Nadia’s experience made me understand the messages we absorb implicitly from it. Such messages lay the groundwork for a belief system that Jews and Arabs will never be able to live in peace. Such messages are not unique to this quote, nor only to Israeli Jewish schooling. They are part of the conflicted history Jews and Arabs in Israel inherit, and the ongoing conflict that embitters people’s lives and remains unresolved. Nonetheless, we can choose which lessons to draw from this history and what kind of future to build toward.
Jewish and Arab children attend different schools because Israel’s schools are tracked along communal lines: Jewish secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox, and Arab. While this reflects and respects the differences, and preferences, of the major populations in Israel, it means that the vast majority of children grow up with little or no contact outside of their community. Separate schooling, residential areas, media and the general lack of daily contact reinforce ignorance and mistrust of each other. This also prevents the development of pathways to understanding and cooperation.
Going to school together exposes you to each other’s perspectives, not only in the explicit ways they are taught, but precisely in exchanges like mine with Nadia about Golda Meir’s statement. It makes you understand each other more deeply, and examine your own assumptions.
Being together does not eliminate disagreements, but it equips you to find ways to discuss and work with them. This forges a different psychological and societal premise on which to build a society, creating a citizenry equipped to appreciate diversity and work constructively with the inherent challenges of difference. Only in this way can we stop fighting and fearing each other, and find a way to live together peacefully.
President Reuven Rivlin has been an outspoken advocate regarding the existential necessity facing Israel to build a genuine partnership between the four major community groups. Israeli society is fragmenting along these communal seam lines, facing civil tensions that can too easily turn to civil unrest. Bringing Jews and Arabs together in a shared educational partnership is not about political correctness or providing some shallow multicultural facade. It is a pragmatic, political, economic and security necessity.
The state education system plays a central role in this.
A recent report from the State Comptroller offers a sobering assessment of the failure of Israel’s education system to teach students toward coexistence, instead imparting conflicting views of Israeli society and core values. The report also offers a very clear path of action for policy makers, educators and students. It begins with bringing students together in formal and informal educational frameworks to help them appreciate the richness of their different traditions, cultures and histories, and also contend with the inevitable challenges that come with this.
The school Nadia leads, the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School, has grown into a K-12 school, part of the mainstream school system, academically excellent and socially pioneering. It serves as a flagship for the other integrated schools in Israel, the only schools where Jews and Arabs are brought together in a shared educational partnership.
Last year Nadia was recognized by Shimon Peres as one of eight women leading profound change in Israeli society. This week the school was awarded the prestigious Education Prize by the Jerusalem Municipality.
Hundreds are on waiting lists at all six of Hand in Hand’s schools, and parents in a dozen other cities have turned to Hand in Hand to start an integrated school. These parents see this as the best way to educate their children, and the best way to build a shared future.
Not every parent in Israel has to choose to send their children to an integrated school. But every Jewish and Arab parent should be able to choose an integrated school. Those who attend will be uniquely equipped to build a society based on partnership. Those who don’t will be impacted by the consciousness that this is a normal, viable choice not just for a school but for society, and integrated programming between homogenous schools should bring groups together regularly to create contact and familiarity.
Golda Meir was right that it is the parents who shape their children’s views of enemies and allies, and this has a direct impact on the kind of future we will have as a society. The existential crises of 2017 are not those of 1948. Today’s Israeli reality requires building partnerships between Jews and Arabs. Integrated schools and coexistence programs must be scaled up to become a norm rather than the exception. Our future depends on it.
The author is director of resource development and strategy for Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.
The Uri Avnery Column at the Israeli Gush Shalom website of February 4, 2017
RESPECT THE GREEN LINE!
THE MOST incisive analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I have ever read was written by the Jewish-Polish-British historian Isaac Deutscher. It consists of a single image.
A man lives on the upper floor of a building, which catches fire. To save his life, he jumps out of a window and lands on a passerby in the street below. The victim is grievously injured, and between the two starts an intractable conflict.
Of course, no metaphor is completely perfect. The Zionists did not choose Palestine by chance, the choice was based on our religion. The founder of the movement, Theodor Herzl, initially preferred Argentina.
Still, the picture is basically valid, at least until 1967. From then on, the settlers continued to jump across the Green Line, with no fire in sight.
THERE IS nothing holy about the Green Line. It is no different from any other border line around the world, whatever its color.
Most borders were drawn by geography and the accidents of war. Two peoples fight for the territory between them, at some point the fighting comes to an end, and a border is born.
The land borders of Israel – known for some reason as the “Green Line” – were also established by the accidents of war. A part of that line was the result of a deal between the new Israeli government and the king of Jordan, Abdallah I, who gave us the so-called Triangle as a baksheesh, in return for Israel’s agreement to his annexation of most of the rest of Palestine. So what’s so holy about this border? Nothing, except that it’s there. And that is true for many borders throughout the world.
A border is established by accident and confirmed by agreement. True, the United Nations drew borders between the Jewish and the Arab states in its 1947 resolution, but after the Arab side started a war in order to thwart this decision, Israel greatly enlarged its territory.
The 1948 war ended without a peace treaty. But the armistice lines established at the end of the war were accepted by the entire world as the borders of Israel. This has not changed during the 68 years that have passed since then.
This situation prevails both de facto and de jure. Israeli law applies only within the Green Line. Everything else is occupied territory under military law. Two small territories – East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – were unilaterally declared to be annexed by Israel, but nobody in the world recognizes this status.
I ELABORATE on these well-known facts because the settlers in the occupied territories have lately started to taunt their critics in Israel by bringing up a new argument: “Hey, what’s the big difference between us?”
You too sit on Arab lands, they tell us. True, before 1948 the Zionists settled on land they bought with good money – but only a small part of it was bought from the fellahin who tilled it. Most of it was acquired from rich absentee landowners, who had bought it cheaply from the Turkish sultan when the Ottoman Empire was in dire financial straits . The tillers of the land were driven out by the Turkish, and later the British, police.
Large stretches of land were “liberated” during the fighting of 1948, when masses of Arab villagers and city-dwellers fled before the advancing Israeli forces, as civilians do in every war. If they didn’t, a few salvos of machine-gun fire were enough to drive them out.
The inhabitants who were left in Jaffa after the town was conquered, were simply packed on trucks and sent to Gaza. The inhabitants of Lod (Lydda) were driven away on foot. In the end, about 750 thousand Arabs were expelled, more than half the Palestinian people at the time. The Jewish population in Palestine amounted then to 650 thousand.
Some inner voice compels me at this point to mention a Canadian-Jewish officer named Ben Dunkelmann, then 36 years old, who commanded a brigade in the new Israeli army. He had served with distinction in the Canadian army in World War II. He was ordered to attack Nazareth, the home-town of Jesus, but succeeded in inducing the local leaders to surrender without a fight. The condition was that the local population would not be harmed.
After his troops had occupied the town, Dunkelmann received an oral order to drive the population out. Outraged, Dunkelmann refused to break his word of honor as an officer and a gentleman, and demanded the order in writing. Such a written order never arrived, of course (no such orders were ever put in writing), but Dunkelmann was removed from his post.
Nowadays, when I pass Nazareth, a thriving Arab town, I remember this brave man. After that war, he returned to his native Canada. I don’t think he ever came back here again. He died 20 years ago.
HONEST DISCLOSURE: I took part in all this. As a simple soldier, and later as a squad leader, I was a part of the events. But immediately after the war I wrote a book that disclosed the truth (“The Other Side of the Coin”), and a few years later I published a detailed plan for the return of some of the refugees and the payment of compensation to all the others. That, of course, never happened.
Most of the land and the houses of the refugees were filled with new Jewish immigrants.
Now the settlers say, not without some justice: “Who are you to despise us? You did the same as we are doing! Only you did it before 1967, and we do it now. What’s the difference?”
That is the difference. We live in a state that has been recognized by most of the world within established borders. You live in territory that the world considers occupied Palestinian territory. The state of Texas was acquired by the USA in a war with Mexico. If President Trump were now to invade Mexico and annex a chunk of land (why not?), its status would be quite different.
Binyamin Netanyahu – some now call him Trumpyahu – is all for enlarging the settlements. This week, under pressure from our Supreme Court, he staged the removal of one tiny little settlement, Amona, with a lot of heartbreak and tears, but immediately promised to put up many thousands of new “housing units” in the occupied territories.
OPPOSITE POLITICAL extremes often touch each other. So it is now.
The settlers who want to wipe out the difference between us and them, do it not just to justify themselves. Their main aim is to erase the Green Line and include all the occupied territories in Greater Israel, which would extend from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
A lot of Israel-haters want the same borders – but as an Arab state.
Indeed, I would love to chair a peace conference of Israel-haters and Palestine-haters. I would propose to decide first on the points they all agree on – namely the creation of a state from sea to river. I would leave to the end the decision whether to call it Israel or Palestine.
A world-wide movement called BDS now proposes to boycott all of Israel, in order to achieve this end. I have a problem with that.
GUSH SHALOM, the Israeli peace organization to which I belong, takes great pride in being the first to declare a boycott on the products of the settlements many years ago. We still uphold this boycott, though it is now illegal under Israeli law.
We did not declare a boycott on Israel. And not only because it is rather awkward to boycott oneself. The main object of our boycott was to teach Israelis to differentiate between themselves and the settlements. We published and distributed many thousand copies of the list of companies located and products produced outside the Green Line. Many people are upholding the boycott.
The BDS boycott of all Israel achieves the exact opposite: by saying that there is no difference between Israel within the Green Line and the settlers outside, it pushes ordinary Israelis into the arms of the settlers.
The settlers, of course, are only too happy to get the assistance of BDS in erasing the Green Line.
I HAVE no emotional quarrel with the BDS people. True, a few of them seem to be old-school anti-Semites in a new garb, but I have the impression that most BDS supporters act out of sincere sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians. I respect that.
However, I would urge the well-meaning idealists who support BDS to think again about the paramount importance of the Green Line – the only border that makes peace between Israel and Palestine possible, with some minor mutually agreed adjustments.
ISRAEL IS there. It cannot be wished away. So is Palestine.
If we all agree on that, we can also agree on the continued boycott of the settlements – and of the settlements only.
With a $1 million grant, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs jumpstarts solar-electricity small-vessels transportation in Tunisia for the benefit of the Middle East and North Africa.
UNDESA – 01-JANUARY 2017
Project for solar-powered vessels receives $1 million UN Energy Grant
A partnership working to promote solar-powered electric vessels in Tunisia and in the Middle East and North Africa was awarded the one million US dollars 2016 Energy Grant from UN DESA on 14 December 2016. The project “Solar Fueled Electric Maritime Mobility” by SINTEF, an independent non-profit research institute based in Norway, seeks to demonstrate the feasibility and the social, economic and environmental benefits of solar-fueled electric boat transport in Tunisia and the wider region.
SINTEF is implementing this demonstration project with the National Agency for Energy Conservation of Tunisia.
SINTEF will use the grant to develop technology for a traditional ferry or other vessel with a plug-in hybrid electric powertrain and to construct an electric charging point. It will help also support data collection and analysis. Selection of the vessel in Tunisia to be used for the demonstration will be decided in the first phase of the project.
The project aims to generate the data and evidence needed to replicate sustainable transport in the region. It seeks to demonstrate the benefits of low cost electric vessels as key transport between coastal cities in the region, with a view to encouraging other stakeholders to implement such transport on a larger scale. This would in turn benefit in particular the low and middle income parts of the population. The project will also contribute to the avoidance of transport related greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and it will help to prevent and reduce marine pollution.
Furthermore, the project will conduct capacity development workshops for Tunisian and other regional stakeholders, the preparation of a Tunisian Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) to be submitted to the UNFCCC portal, as well as public outreach activities to spread knowledge of this low-cost, sustainable transport solution.
SINTEF has extensive expertise in solar and wind energy, energy regulation and storage, grid integration of renewable energy, maritime transport and maritime technologies.
“The transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. It also has significant public health impacts,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the award ceremony. “The answer is not less transport – it is sustainable transport.
We need transport systems that are environmentally friendly, efficient, affordable, and accessible,” he said.
UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson said the “Powering the Future We Want” programme is a “creative initiative that promotes and funds innovative activities related to sustainable energy – an issue that goes to the heart of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” He added, “it is vital to our efforts to move towards a sustainable future that we establish transport systems that are smart, clean, affordable, and powered by clean energy.”
Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo expressed deep gratitude to all of the finalists, the China Energy Fund Committee, the High-level Steering Committee and the Advisory Council of the Grant. “This Energy Grant is an excellent example of global partnership. Working together, we can make a difference. Today’s award bears vivid testimony to that success,” he said.
“We firmly believe that energy belongs to all of us, today and tomorrow. And each and every one of us has the duty to use energy sparingly, wisely and responsibly. By partnering with UN DESA in making this grant possible, the China Energy Fund Committee is sending out a most sincere message of collaboration and partnership to work together finding solutions for energy security by achieving energy sustainability for the entire humanity,” said Dr. Patrick Ho, Secretary-General of the China Energy Fund Committee.
The “Powering the Future We Want” initiative
The UN-DESA Energy Grant is a capacity building initiative launched and managed by UN DESA, in collaboration with the China Energy Fund Committee, a Hong Kong based NGO in consultative status with ECOSOC. Titled “Powering the Future We Want”, this initiative offers a grant in the amount of one million US dollars to fund capacity development activities in energy for sustainable development. The grant is awarded to an individual, institution or partnership based on past and current achievements in leadership and innovative practices in advancing energy for sustainable development. The 2016 cycle of the grant had as focus “Energy for Sustainable Transport”.
In 2016, the UN DESA Energy Grant received over 150 applications. The winner has been selected through a rigorous review and objective assessment of these applications, undertaken in multiple stages, guided by an Advisory Council and a High-level Steering Committee. A grant will be awarded annually from 2015 until 2019.
The eight finalists of the 2016 Grant Cycle, in alphabetical order: Ms. Fiza Farhan; GerWeiss Motors Corporation; KPIT Technologies Limited; Medellin Mayor’s Office- Mobility and Transit Department; Motor Development International SA (MDI SA); South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE); SINTEF; SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.
Winner of the US$1 million 2016 UN-DESA Energy Grant: SINTEF
The $1 million come from a China/Hong Kong based NGO.
THIS IS A VERY LATE ARRIVAL – BUT CAN IT NOW CHANGE POLICY? WILL PRESIDENT OBAMA – IN HIS LAST 10 WEEKS IN OFFICE AFTER THE NOVEMBER 2016 ELECTIONS DO WHAT IT TAKES TO DECLARE US INDEPENDENCE OF MIDDLE EAST OIL?
This article tells us what we at SustainabiliTank knew for years – the oil money was used by the Saudi Royal family to export Wahhabism to the Islamic world. This Wahhabi indoctrination gave birth to the culture of terrorism that surfaced at the 9/11 attack against humanity. The US government – that is all US governments – to be exact – starting with President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt who in his 1945 meetings at Yalta and on the ship in Suez – traded away the future of the West for the barrels of oil of the Middle East
THE NEW YORK TIMES – Front-page August 25,2016
Saudis and Extremism:
‘Both the Arsonists
and the Firefighters’
Critics see Saudi Arabia’s export of a rigid strain of Islam as contributing to
terrorism, but the kingdom’s influence depends greatly on local conditions.
By SCOTT SHANE August 25, 2016
WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do not agree on much, but Saudi Arabia may be an exception. She has deplored Saudi Arabia’s support for “radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.” He has called the Saudis “the world’s biggest funders of terrorism.”
The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. “If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,”
the official, Farah Pandith, wrote last year, “there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.”
“If the Saudis do not
cease what they are
doing, there must be
diplomatic, cultural and
FARAH PANDITH, A STATE DEPARTMENT REPRESENTATIVE TO MUSLIM COMMUNITIES
“If there was going to be
an Islamic reformation in
the 20th century, the
Saudis probably prevented
it by pumping out literalism.”
THOMAS HEGGHAMMER, NORWEGIAN TERRORISM EXPERT
And hardly a week passes without a television pundit or a newspaper columnist blaming Saudi Arabia for jihadist violence.
On HBO, Bill Maher calls Saudi teachings “medieval,” adding an epithet. In The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria writes that the Saudis have “created a monster in the world of Islam.”
The idea has become a commonplace: that Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism. As the Islamic State projects its menacing calls for violence into the West, directing or inspiring terrorist attacks in country after country, an old debate over Saudi influence on Islam has taken on new relevance.
What Is Wahhabism?
The Islam taught in and by Saudi Arabia is often called Wahhabism, after the 18th-century cleric who founded it. A literalist, ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam, its adherents often denigrate other Islamic sects as well as Christians and Jews.
Is the world today a more divided, dangerous and violent place because of the cumulative effect of five decades of oil-financed proselytizing from the historical heart of the Muslim world? Or is Saudi Arabia, which has often supported Western-friendly autocrats over Islamists, merely a convenient scapegoat for extremism and terrorism with many complex causes — the United States’s own actions among them?
Those questions are deeply contentious, partly because of the contradictory impulses of the Saudi state.
In the realm of extremist Islam, the Saudis are “both the arsonists and the firefighters,” said William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar. “They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim,” he said, providing ideological fodder for violent jihadists.
Yet at the same time, “they’re our partners in counterterrorism,” said Mr. McCants, one of three dozen academics, government officials and experts on Islam from multiple countries interviewed for this article.
Saudi leaders seek good relations with the West and see jihadist violence as a menace that could endanger their rule, especially now that the Islamic State is staging attacks in the kingdom — 25 in the last eight months, by the government’s count. But they are also driven by their rivalry with Iran, and they depend for legitimacy on a clerical establishment dedicated to a reactionary set of beliefs. Those conflicting goals can play out in a bafflingly inconsistent manner.
Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said.
The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.
There is a broad consensus that the Saudi ideological juggernaut has disrupted local Islamic traditions in dozens of countries — the result of lavish spending on religious outreach for half a century, estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. The result has been amplified by guest workers, many from South Asia, who spend years in Saudi Arabia and bring Saudi ways home with them. In many countries, Wahhabist preaching has encouraged a harshly judgmental religion, contributing to majority support in some polls in Egypt, Pakistan and other countries for stoning for adultery and execution for anyone trying to leave Islam.
But exactly how Saudi influence plays out seems to depend greatly on local conditions. In parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, for instance, Saudi teachings have shifted the religious culture in a markedly conservative direction, most visibly in the decision of more women to cover their hair or of men to grow beards. Among Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, the Saudi influence seems to be just one factor driving radicalization, and not the most significant. In divided countries like Pakistan and Nigeria, the flood of Saudi money, and the ideology it promotes, have exacerbated divisions over religion that regularly prove lethal.
For minorities in many countries, the exclusionary Saudi version of Sunni Islam, with its denigration of Jews and Christians, as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, may have made some people vulnerable to the lure of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other violent jihadist groups. “There’s only so much dehumanizing of the other that you can be exposed to — and exposed to as the word of God — without becoming susceptible to recruitment,” said David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington who tracks Saudi influence.
Exhibit A may be Saudi Arabia itself, which produced not only Osama bin Laden, but also 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001; sent more suicide bombers than any other country to Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State, 2,500, than any country other than Tunisia.
Mehmet Gormez, the senior Islamic cleric in Turkey, said that while he was meeting with Saudi clerics in Riyadh in January, the Saudi authorities had executed 47 people in a single day on terrorism charges, 45 of them Saudi citizens. “I said: ‘These people studied Islam for 10 or 15 years in your country. Is there a problem with the educational system?’ ” Mr. Gormez said in an interview. He argued that Wahhabi teaching was undermining the pluralism, tolerance and openness to science and learning that had long characterized Islam. “Sadly,” he said, the changes have taken place “in almost all of the Islamic world.”
In a huge embarrassment to the Saudi authorities, the Islamic State adopted official Saudi textbooks for its schools until the extremist group could publish its own books in 2015. Out of 12 works by Muslim scholars republished by the Islamic State, seven are by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century founder of the Saudi school of Islam, said Jacob Olidort, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Adil al-Kalbani declared with regret in a television interview in January that the Islamic State leaders “draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, our own principles.”
Small details of Saudi practice can cause outsize trouble. For at least two decades, the kingdom has distributed an English translation of the Quran that in the first surah, or chapter, adds parenthetical references to Jews and Christians in addressing Allah: “those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).” Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and the editor in chief of the new Study Quran, an annotated English version, said the additions were “a complete heresy, with no basis in Islamic tradition.”
Accordingly, many American officials who have worked to counter extremism and terrorism have formed a dark view of the Saudi effect — even if, given the sensitivity of the relationship, they are often loath to discuss it publicly. The United States’ reliance on Saudi counterterrorism cooperation in recent years — for instance, the Saudi tip that foiled a 2010 Qaeda plot to blow up two American cargo planes — has often taken precedence over concerns about radical influence. And generous Saudi funding for professorships and research centers at American universities, including the most elite institutions, has deterred criticism and discouraged research on the effects of Wahhabi proselytizing, according to Mr. McCants — who is working on a book about the Saudi impact on global Islam — and other scholars.
One American former official who has begun to speak out is Ms. Pandith, the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities worldwide. From 2009 to 2014, she visited Muslims in 80 countries and concluded that Saudi influence was pernicious and universal. “In each place I visited, the Wahhabi influence was an insidious presence,” she wrote in The New York Times last year. She said the United States should “disrupt the training of extremist imams,” “reject free Saudi textbooks and translations that are filled with hate,” and “prevent the Saudis from demolishing local Muslim religious and cultural sites that are evidence of the diversity of Islam.”
Yet some scholars on Islam and extremism, including experts on radicalization in many countries, push back against the notion that Saudi Arabia bears predominant responsibility for the current wave of extremism and jihadist violence. They point to multiple sources for the rise and spread of Islamist terrorism, including repressive secular governments in the Middle East, local injustices and divisions, the hijacking of the internet for terrorist propaganda, and American interventions in the Muslim world from the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq. The 20th-century ideologues most influential with modern jihadists, like Sayyid Qutb of Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi of Pakistan, reached their extreme, anti-Western views without much Saudi input. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State despise Saudi rulers, whom they consider the worst of hypocrites.
“Americans like to have someone to blame — a person, a political party or country,” said Robert S. Ford, a former United States ambassador to Syria and Algeria. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that. I’d be careful about blaming the Saudis.”
While Saudi religious influence may be disruptive, he and others say, its effect is not monolithic. A major tenet of official Saudi Islamic teaching is obedience to rulers — hardly a precept that encourages terrorism intended to break nations. Many Saudi and Saudi-trained clerics are quietist, characterized by a devotion to scripture and prayer and a shunning of politics, let alone political violence.
And especially since 2003, when Qaeda attacks in the kingdom awoke the monarchy to the danger it faced from militancy, Saudi Arabia has acted more aggressively to curtail preachers who call for violence, cut off terrorist financing and cooperate with Western intelligence to foil terrorist plots. From 2004 to 2012, 3,500 imams were fired for refusing to renounce extremist views, and another 20,000 went through retraining, according to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs — though the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed skepticism that the training was really “instilling tolerance.”
An American scholar with long experience in Saudi Arabia — who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve his ability to travel to the kingdom for research — said he believed that Saudi influence had often been exaggerated in American political discourse. But he compared it to climate change. Just as a one-degree increase in temperature can ultimately result in drastic effects around the globe, with glaciers melting and species dying off, so Saudi teaching is playing out in many countries in ways that are hard to predict and difficult to trace but often profound, the scholar said.
Saudi proselytizing can result in a “recalibrating of the religious center of gravity” for young people, the scholar said, which makes it “easier for them to swallow or make sense of the ISIS religious narrative when it does arrive. It doesn’t seem quite as foreign as it might have, had that Saudi religious influence not been there.”
Why does Saudi Arabia find it so difficult to let go of an ideology that much of the world finds repugnant? The key to the Saudi dilemma dates back nearly three centuries to the origin of the alliance that still undergirds the Saudi state. In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a reformist cleric, sought the protection of Muhammad bin Saud, a powerful tribal leader in the harsh desert of the Arabian Peninsula. The alliance was mutually beneficial: Wahhab received military protection for his movement, which sought to return Muslims to what he believed were the values of the early years of Islam in the seventh century, when the Prophet Muhammad was alive. (His beliefs were a variant of Salafism, the conservative school of Islam that teaches that the salaf, or pious ancestors, had the correct ways and beliefs and should be emulated.) In return, the Saud family earned the endorsement of an Islamic cleric — a puritanical enforcer known for insisting on the death by stoning of a woman for adultery.
Wahhab’s particular version of Islam was the first of two historical accidents that would define Saudi religious influence centuries later. What came to be known as Wahhabism was “a tribal, desert Islam,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington. It was shaped by the austere environment — xenophobic, fiercely opposed to shrines and tombs, disapproving of art and music, and hugely different from the cosmopolitan Islam of diverse trading cities like Baghdad and Cairo.
The second historical accident came in 1938, when American prospectors discovered the largest oil reserves on earth in Saudi Arabia. Oil revenue generated by the Arabian-American Oil Company, or Aramco, created fabulous wealth. But it also froze in place a rigid social and economic system and gave the conservative religious establishment an extravagant budget for the export of its severe strain of Islam.
“One day you find oil, and the world is coming to you,” Professor Ahmed said. “God has given you the ability to take your version of Islam to the world.”
In 1964, when King Faisal ascended the throne, he embraced the obligation of spreading Islam. A modernizer in many respects, with close ties to the West, he nonetheless could not overhaul the Wahhabi doctrine that became the face of Saudi generosity in many countries. Over the next four decades, in non-Muslim-majority countries alone, Saudi Arabia would build 1,359 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges and 2,000 schools. Saudi money helped finance 16 American mosques; four in Canada; and others in London, Madrid, Brussels and Geneva, according to a report in an official Saudi weekly, Ain al-Yaqeen. The total spending, including supplying or training imams and teachers, was “many billions” of Saudi riyals (at a rate of about four to a dollar), the report said.
Saudi religious teaching had particular force because it came from the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the land of Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina. When Saudi imams arrived in Muslim countries in Asia or Africa, or in Muslim communities in Europe or the Americas, wearing traditional Arabian robes, speaking the language of the Quran — and carrying a generous checkbook — they had automatic credibility.
As the 20th century progressed and people of different nationalities and faiths mixed routinely, the puritanical, exclusionary nature of Wahhab’s teachings would become more and more dysfunctional. But the Saudi government would find it extraordinarily difficult to shed or soften its ideology, especially after the landmark year of 1979.
In Tehran that year, the Iranian revolution brought to power a radical Shiite government, symbolically challenging Saudi Arabia, the leader of Sunnism, for leadership of global Islam. The declaration of an Islamic Republic escalated the competition between the two major branches of Islam, spurring the Saudis to redouble their efforts to counter Iran and spread Wahhabism around the world.
Then, in a stunning strike, a band of 500 Saudi extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca for two weeks, publicly calling Saudi rulers puppets of the West and traitors to true Islam. The rebels were defeated, but leading clerics agreed to back the government only after assurances of support for a crackdown on immodest ways in the kingdom and a more aggressive export of Wahhabism abroad.
Finally, at year’s end, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and seized power to prop up a Communist government. It soon faced an insurgent movement of mujahedeen, or holy warriors battling for Islam, which drew fighters from around the world for a decade-long battle to expel the occupiers.
Throughout the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and the United States worked together to finance the mujahedeen in this great Afghan war, which would revive the notion of noble armed jihad for Muslims worldwide. President Ronald Reagan famously welcomed to the Oval Office a delegation of bearded “Afghan freedom fighters” whose social and theological views were hardly distinguishable from those later embraced by the Taliban.
Saudi Arabia and the United States worked together to support the mujahedeen, the Afghan fighters whose representatives met President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office in 1983, in their fight against the Soviet occupation.
In fact, the United States spent $50 million from 1986 to 1992 on what was called a “jihad literacy” project — printing books for Afghan children and adults to encourage violence against non-Muslim “infidels” like Soviet troops. A first-grade language textbook for Pashto speakers, for example, according to a study by Dana Burde, an associate professor at New York University, used “Mujahid,” or fighter of jihad, as the illustration: “My brother is a Mujahid. Afghan Muslims are Mujahedeen. I do jihad together with them. Doing jihad against infidels is our duty.”
Pressure After 9/11
One day in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Robert W. Jordan, the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was driving in the kingdom with the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. The prince pointed to a mosque and said, “I just fired the imam there.” The man’s preaching had been too militant, he said.
Mr. Jordan, a Texas lawyer, said that after the Qaeda attacks, he had stepped up pressure on the Saudi government over its spread of extremism. “I told them: ‘What you teach in your schools and preach in your mosques now is not an internal matter. It affects our national security,’” he said.
After years of encouraging and financing a harsh Islam in support of the anti-Soviet jihad, the United States had reversed course — gradually during the 1990s and then dramatically after the Sept. 11 attacks. But in pressuring Saudi Arabia, American officials would tread lightly, acutely aware of American dependence on Saudi oil and intelligence cooperation. Saudi reform would move at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Document: State Dept. Study on Saudi Textbooks
Twelve years after Sept. 11, after years of quiet American complaints about Saudi teachings, a State Department contractor, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, completed a study of official Saudi textbooks. It reported some progress in cutting back on bigoted and violent content but found that plenty of objectionable material remained. Officials never released the 2013 study, for fear of angering the Saudis. The New York Times obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act.
Seventh graders were being taught that “fighting the infidels to elevate the words of Allah” was among the deeds Allah loved the most, the report found, among dozens of passages it found troubling. Tenth graders learned that Muslims who abandoned Islam should be jailed for three days and, if they did not change their minds, “killed for walking away from their true religion.” Fourth graders read that non-Muslims had been “shown the truth but abandoned it, like the Jews,” or had replaced truth with “ignorance and delusion, like the Christians.”
Some of the books, prepared and distributed by the government, propagated views that were hostile to science, modernity and women’s rights, not to say downright quirky — advocating, for instance, execution for sorcerers and warning against the dangers of the Rotary Club and the Lions Club. (The groups’ intent, said a 10th-grade textbook, “is to achieve the goals of the Zionist movement.”)
The textbooks, or other Saudi teaching materials with similar content, had been distributed in scores of countries, the study found. Textbook reform has continued since the 2013 study, and Saudi officials say they are trying to replace older books distributed overseas.
Excerpts from Saudi textbooks with critical comments from a 2013 study, commissioned by the State Department, that was never released for fear of angering the Saudis. The New York Times obtained the study under the Freedom of Information Act.
But as the study noted, the schoolbooks were only a modest part of the Saudis’ lavishly funded global export of Wahhabism. In many places, the study said, the largess includes “a Saudi-funded school with a Wahhabist faculty (educated in a Saudi-funded Wahhabist University), attached to a mosque with a Wahhabist imam, and ultimately controlled by an international Wahhabist educational body.”
This ideological steamroller has landed in diverse places where Muslims of different sects had spent centuries learning to accommodate one another. Sayyed Shah, a Pakistani journalist working on a doctorate in the United States, described the devastating effect on his town, not far from the Afghan border, of the arrival some years ago of a young Pakistani preacher trained in a Saudi-funded seminary.
Village residents had long held a mélange of Muslim beliefs, he said. “We were Sunni, but our culture, our traditions were a mixture of Shia and Barelvi and Deobandi,” Mr. Shah said, referring to Muslim sects. His family would visit the large Barelvi shrine, and watch their Shiite neighbors as they lashed themselves in a public religious ritual. “We wouldn’t do that ourselves, but we’d hand out sweets and water,” he said.
The new preacher, he said, denounced the Barelvi and Shiite beliefs as false and heretical, dividing the community and setting off years of bitter argument. By 2010, Mr. Shah said, “everything had changed.” Women who had used shawls to cover their hair and face began wearing full burqas. Militants began attacking kiosks where merchants sold secular music CDs. Twice, terrorists used explosives to try to destroy the village’s locally famous shrine.
“One day you find oil,
and the world is coming
to you. God has given you
the ability to take your
version of Islam to the world.”
AKBAR AHMED, CHAIRMAN OF ISLAMIC STUDIES AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
Now, Mr. Shah said, families are divided; his cousin, he said, “just wants Saudi religion.” He said an entire generation had been “indoctrinated” with a rigid, unforgiving creed.
“It’s so difficult these days,” he said. “Initially we were on a single path. We just had economic problems, but we were culturally sound.”
He added, “But now it’s very difficult, because some people want Saudi culture to be our culture, and others are opposing that.”
C. Christine Fair, a specialist on Pakistan at Georgetown University, said Mr. Shah’s account was credible. But like many scholars describing the Saudi impact on religion, she said that militancy in Pakistan also had local causes. While Saudi money and teaching have unquestionably been “accelerants,” Pakistan’s sectarian troubles and jihadist violence have deep roots dating to the country’s origins in the partition of India in 1947.
“The idea that without the Saudis Pakistan would be Switzerland is ridiculous,” she said.
Elusive Saudi Links
That is the disputed question, of course: how the world would be different without decades of Saudi-funded shaping of Islam. Though there is a widespread belief that Saudi influence has contributed to the growth of terrorism, it is rare to find a direct case of cause and effect. For example, in Brussels, the Grand Mosque was built with Saudi money and staffed with Saudi imams. In 2012, according to Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, one Saudi preacher was removed after Belgian complaints that he was a “true Salafi” who did not accept other schools of Islam. And Brussels’ immigrant neighborhoods, notably Molenbeek, have long been the home of storefront mosques teaching hard-line Salafi views.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November and in Brussels in March were tied to an Islamic State cell in Belgium, the Saudi history was the subject of several news media reports. Yet it was difficult to find any direct link between the bombers and the Saudi legacy in the Belgian capital.
Several suspects had petty criminal backgrounds; their knowledge of Islam was described by friends as superficial; they did not appear to be regulars at any mosque. Though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blasts, resentment of the treatment of North African immigrant families in Belgium and exposure to Islamic State propaganda, in person or via the internet and social media, appeared to be the major factors motivating the attacks.
If there was a Saudi connection, it was highly indirect, perhaps playing out over a generation or longer. Hind Fraihi, a Moroccan-Belgian journalist who went underground in the Brussels immigrant neighborhood of Molenbeek in 2005 and wrote a book about it, met Saudi-trained imams and found lots of extremist literature written in Saudi Arabia that encouraged “polarization, the sentiment of us against them, the glorification of jihad.”
The recent attackers, Ms. Fraihi said, were motivated by “lots of factors — economic frustration, racism, a generation that feels it has no future.” But Saudi teaching, she said, “is part of the cocktail.”
Without the Saudi presence over the decades, might a more progressive and accommodating Islam, reflecting immigrants’ Moroccan roots, have taken hold in Brussels? Would young Muslims raised in Belgium have been less susceptible to the stark, violent call of the Islamic State? Conceivably, but the case is impossible to prove.
Or consider an utterly different cultural milieu — the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia. The Saudis have sent money for mosque-building, books and teachers for decades, said Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta.
“Over time,” said Ms. Jones, who has visited or lived in Indonesia since the 1970s, the Saudi influence “has contributed to a more conservative, more intolerant atmosphere.” (President Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy, has remarked on the same phenomenon.) She said she believed money from private Saudi donors and foundations was behind campaigns in Indonesia against Shiite and Ahmadi Islam, considered heretical by Wahhabi teaching. Some well-known Indonesian religious vigilantes are Saudi-educated, she said.
But when Ms. Jones studied the approximately 1,000 people arrested in Indonesia on terrorism charges since 2002, she found only a few — “literally four or five” — with ties to Wahhabi or Salafi institutions. When it comes to violence, she concluded, the Saudi connection is “mostly a red herring.”
In fact, she said, there is a gulf between Indonesian jihadists and Indonesian Salafis who look to Saudi or Yemeni scholars for guidance. The jihadists accuse the Salafis of failing to act on their convictions; the Salafis scorn the jihadists as extremists.
Whatever the global effects of decades of Saudi proselytizing, it is under greater scrutiny than ever, from outside and inside the kingdom. Saudi leaders’ ideological reform efforts, encompassing textbooks and preaching, amount to a tacit recognition that its religious exports have sometimes backfired. And the kingdom has stepped up an aggressive public relations campaign in the West, hiring American publicists to counter critical news media reports and fashion a reformist image for Saudi leaders.
But neither the publicists nor their clients can renounce the strain of Islam on which the Saudi state was built, and old habits sometimes prove difficult to suppress. A prominent cleric, Saad bin Nasser al-Shethri, had been stripped of a leadership position by the previous king, Abdullah, for condemning coeducation. King Salman restored Mr. Shethri to the job last year, not long after the cleric had joined the chorus of official voices criticizing the Islamic State. But Mr. Shethri’s reasoning for denouncing the Islamic State suggested the difficulty of change. The group was, he said, “more infidel than Jews and Christians.”
Photo: The Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea, one of hundreds of mosques around the world built using Saudi donations. Credit Choi Won-Suk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Photo: The King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times
Photo: The United States spent millions printing textbooks for Afghan children and adults that encouraged violence against non-Muslim “infidels” like Soviet troops, as in this excerpt from a book for Pashto-speaking first graders. Credit From Dana Burde, Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan
Photo: The Iranian revolution in early 1979 brought to power a radical Shiite government, symbolically challenging Saudi Arabia, the leader of Sunnism, for leadership of global Islam. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Photo: A wounded man at the airport in Brussels after an attack by jihadists in March. There appears to be no direct link between the bombers and the Saudi legacy in the Belgian capital. Credit Ketevan Kardava/Associated Press
Photo: During his reign from 1964 to 1975, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, pictured here in May 1968, embraced the duty of spreading Islam around the world. Credit Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos
Photo: Members of the Saudi security services inspecting the site of a car bomb attack in May 2015 targeting Shiite Saudis attending Friday Prayer at a mosque in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Credit European Pressphoto Agency
Photo: Saudi oil fields developed by Aramco, the Arabian-American Oil Company, as seen in this 1951 photograph, provided generous funding for the export of the Saudi version of Islam. Credit Associated Press
Secrets of the Kingdom
A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam. Then the Death Threats Began.JUL. 11, 2016
A Saudi Imam, 2 Hijackers and Lingering 9/11 Mystery JUNE 18, 2016
How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS MAY 22, 2016
ISIS Turns Saudis Against the Kingdom, and Families Against Their Own APRIL 1, 2016
Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. in Yemen MARCH 14, 2016
U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels JAN. 24, 2016
The movie was shown this weekend twice (23rd and 25th of October) to sold out audiences at Vienna’s Film Festival – the Viennale. Another Israeli movie- maker plaid it safer – he showed killings in Indonesia. In an interview with the “Wienner Zeitung” – Gitai said that he does not want to end up the same way as Rabin.
The problem is that in the Middle East there seems to be a practical alliance between those that do not want peace. Be those extremist Palestinians or extremist Jews.
The movie includes that stairway scene where Rabin was supposed to pass to the car waiting for him after he spoke at the peace rally. The media film showed in real time the killer coming towards him and shooting.
Every action and every word uttered in the film to be released is what really happened and what was said. Gitai says he checked everything for at least two sources. The film is therefore freitening in its truth that extends to today’s situation in the Middle East.
Let me mention here that Vienna these days is also the locus where the situation in Syria is openly on the operational table and not much hope is there either. The Austrians, after years of denial to themselves – are now clearly embracing the guilt of the Holocaust and this puts them in a situation that they will not be themselves if rejecting true refugees that escape the Middle East mayhem. All this points at this movie becoming a true document
and those in Israel that hatted Rabin for his attempt to lead to peace, can be counted on hating this retelling of their deeds.
Nasser Al-Kidwa’s full name is Sayed Nasser Arafat al-Qudwa from the Arafat al-Qudwa who according to Wikipedia “are a family of notables from Gaza and of the Ashraf class.” It is said that Yasser Arafat – the Palestinian leader – was his uncle and benefactor.
21 August 2012
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Announced Appointment of Nasser Al-Kidwa as Joint Arab League-United Nations Deputy Representative for Syria – as per UN Press release of August 21, 2012 and said:
“The Secretary-General of the United Nations is pleased, along with Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby of the League of Arab States, to announce the appointment today of Nasser Al-Kidwa as their Deputy Joint Special Representative for Syria.
Mr. Al-Kidwa brings to the position his extensive diplomatic experience and deep knowledge of the region, in addition to his recent involvement in United Nations peacemaking efforts in Syria as Deputy to Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.
In his prior career, Mr. Al-Kidwa served in various functions with the Palestinian National Authority, including as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2006, and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations from 1991 to 2005.”
Ahmad Fawzi was appointed in 1992 as Deputy Spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali. He was the Director of the United Nations Information Centre in London from 1997 to 2003, during which he also served on special assignments as the Spokesman for the Secretary General’s Special Representatives on Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Mr. Fawzi accompanied Mr. Brahimi as his Spokesman on his missions to Iraq in 2004. Thereafter, he was Director of the News and Media Division in the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), a position he held until his retirement in 2010. In that position I clashed with him personally – You see, I was involved in the subjects of sustainability and planet earth since before these subjects became popular – actually I was fighting at the UN – the UN – because UN people planted in the system by home interests, like Ahmad Fawzi that preferred to sweep away from sight any comment brought up by curious journalists that might have had implications regarding sales of oil or notions inconvenient to Palestinians. To me it was clear – it is all about Energy for All – but Energy, as much as possible, that does not harm the Environment. Sustainability is the word behind Sustainable Development, and Sustainability is about future generations and not about our generation.
After retirement Ahmad Fawzi and family moved to Haag, the Netherlands, to work in advocacy with the international legal institutions located in that city. A plant in a new location – also a good place to bring up hthe children as he said. From there he was brought back by UNSG Ban Ki-moon to be spokesman for Kofi Annan’s mission on Syria – as mentioned above. This mainly because his connection to the Arab League. Looking at this situation – former UNSG Kofi Annan being bracketed in between two people with clear agendas basically unacceptable to President Assad – the wags at the UN said at the time that Kofi Annan was set up to fail – so he does not upstage the present UNSG – his successor.
Monday February 2nd, 2015, Ms. Angela Kane, Since 2012 the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs – with previous UN experience at DPI, Political Affairs, and Management, and on Peace Making UN missions – came to the Vienna Diplomatic Academy to address the issue of Chemical Weapons: Syria and the Global Disarmament Perspectives.
Towards the end of the Q&A period I decided to ask why one of the first attempts to engage President Assad by asking former UNSG Kofi Annan to mediate, was torpedoed by putting on the mission two Palestinians with other agendas.
The answer was a clear effort to circle the wagons around the present UNSG by saying that the two individuals were perfectly qualified. Oh well – I really did not expect a different public answer. But then, just a day latter, I get the following e-mail from the Geneva based UN WATCH – and here another world of pro-Palestine UN activist-plants. In my mind the issue is just the same – the UN bureaucracy was stocked during the years with people that have an agenda – mainly backed by Saudi Oil money and probably US Oil companies as well. This was just a continuing effort to pull down the UN into business gutters.
Please continue to read:
Ban Ki-moon must investigate tainted Gaza probe.
Revealed: Schabas denied conflicts of interest in application form.
GENEVA, Feb. 3, 2015 – The Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch welcomed the resignation of William Schabas from the UN inquiry on Gaza, and called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to create an independent inquiry to investigate the extent to which Schabas’ undeclared conflict of interest has now irretrievably tainted the probe, scrutinize the flawed process by which Schabas was selected, and determine whether anyone at the UN rights office in Geneva knew about his paid legal work for the PLO.
Although Human Rights Council president Joachim Ruecker, the ambassador of Germany, insisted today that Schabas’ resignation “preserves the integrity of the process,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said that the opposite is true.
“The truth is that Schabas made clear in his resignation letter that he ‘devoted several months of work’ to the commission,” said Neuer, “in which, as the inquiry Chair, and as the top expert, Schabas would have played a leading role in conceiving of the entire project, including the scope, framework, and methodology of the inquiry, selection of specific incidents of the war to examine, choice of witnesses, and legal standards to apply.”
“Schabas would have had a say in the influential choice of staffers, who do a lion’s share of the work. He chaired all of the hearings where testimony was delivered and witnesses examined.”
“While absent for the final weeks of drafting, the bottom line is that Schabas masterminded and oversaw this effort for six out of its seven months, and he substantially impacted the entire process,” said Neuer.
“Because Schabas’ prior statements and actions are so prejudicial — prompting top legal scholars and his own colleagues to call for him to step down — his undeclared conflict of interest has now irretrievably tainted the entire probe and its report,” said Neuer.
Schabas: I didn’t know non-disclosure of conflict of interest was wrong, no one asked.
In his resignation letter, Schabas defends his failure to disclose his paid legal work for the PLO by saying, “I was not requested to provide any details on any of my past statements and other activities concerning Palestine and Israel.”
Yet when he applied last year for a related post, to replace Richard Falk as the UNHRC’s Palestine investigator, Schabas was asked about conflicts of interest. And he solemnly denied any conflicts.
Schabas resignation follows sustained campaign by UN Watch.
Key moments of the campaign:
• On August 11, 2014, the day Schabas was named head of the UN’s Gaza probe, UN Watch sprang into action, demanding he step down on account of his prior prejudicial statements. UN Watch immediately released videos and quotes showing Schabas’ extreme prejudice, which were picked up worldwide.
• Schabas fought back, arguing: “I have opinions like everybody else about the situation in Israel. They may not be the same as Hillel Neuer’s or Benjamin Netanyahu’s, that’s all.”
• The Daily Beast reported: “Schabas has faced the harshest criticism from Hillel Neuer, the head of the Geneva-based advocacy group UN Watch.”
• UN Watch launched an online petition and published a call for legal scholars to speak out. Over time, leading law professors and human rights activists — including a number of Schabas’ own colleagues — spoke out.
• UN Watch filed a motion and major legal brief demanding Schabas’ recusal.
• In a tense, private meeting in September with Schabas and the other two commissioners, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer told them why the UN Human Rights Council was biased, why the resolution creating their mandate was biased, and why Schabas was legally disqualified because of his prejudicial statements that, at a minimum, created the reasonable apprehension of bias.
• UN Watch handed Schabas the motion demanding that he step down. Schabas became angry and snapped at Neuer, “And who is the reasonable man — you?”
• UN Watch filed an official written statement on the motion to remove Schabas, causing it to be circulated by the United Nations to all country delegates as an official document (A/HRC/27/NGO/112).
• In a dramatic debate, UN Watch Executive Director appeared before the plenary of the UN Human Rights Council to demand Schabas’ recusal, and to argue the legal motion. (See speech & video below).
• UN Watch revealed that one of the world’s most famous human rights figures called on Schabas to step down.
• In the end, with the pressure mounting, William Schabas finally quit.
What kind of relations do the jihadists of northern Sinai and Gaza have with Islamic State, and with Hamas? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month national emergency this week, following the killing of over 31 Egyptian soldiers in a suicide car bombing carried out by jihadists in northern Sinai.
No organization has issued an authoritative claim of responsibility for the bombing, but it comes amid a state of open insurgency in northern Sinai, as Egyptian security forces battle a number of jihadist organizations. Most prominent among these groups are Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen; the attack on the Sinai military base came a few days after an Egyptian court sentenced seven members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis to death for carrying out previous attacks on the army.
In subsequent days, Egyptian officials pointed an accusing finger at the Hamas rulers of Gaza, asserting there is “no doubt that elements belonging to Palestinian factions were directly involved in the attack.” Cairo is now set to build a new barrier separating the Strip from northern Sinai.
In a number of Arabic media outlets, unnamed Egyptian government sources openly accused Hamas members of aiding the assault, assisting with planning, funding and weapons supply.
Are the Egyptian claims credible? Are there links between Hamas or smaller jihadist movements in the Gaza Strip and the insurgents in northern Sinai? And no less importantly, is the armed campaign in northern Sinai linked to Islamic State? First, it is important to understand that jihadist activity in northern Sinai is not a new development. Long before the military coup of July 3, 2013, and indeed before the downfall of president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, this area had become a lawless zone in which jihadists and Beduin smugglers of people and goods carried out their activities.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis emerged from this already existing jihadist milieu in the period following Mubarak’s ouster.
At this time, Egyptian security measures in the area sharply declined.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has not confined its activities to the Sinai area; rather, it has directly engaged in attacks on Israeli targets. Recently, the group beheaded four Sinai locals who it accused of being “spies for the Mossad,” also carrying out two rocket attacks on Eilat this past January.
The claim of links between Hamas and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has been raised in the past. In September, Egyptian security forces claimed to have found uniforms and weaponry identifiable as belonging to Hamas’s Izzadin Kassam brigades.
It is worth remembering that the current Egyptian government has, since its inception, sought to link salafi jihadist terrorism with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as part of its strategy of marginalizing and criminalizing the Brotherhood.
The current statements seeking to link Hamas directly to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis may form part of this larger strategy.
For its part, Hamas indignantly denies any link to this week’s bombing.
But what can be said with greater confidence is there is, without doubt, a burgeoning and violent salafi jihadist subculture that encompasses northern Sinai and southern Gaza – with various organizations possessing members and infrastructure on both sides of the border.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis itself and Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen both have members in Sinai and Gaza. Working tunnels smuggling goods and weapons exist between Gaza and northern Sinai, despite Egyptian attempts to destroy them.
It is also a fact that Hamas is aware of these tunnels and makes no attempt to act against them, benefiting economically from their presence.
From this standpoint, Hamas authorities in Gaza are guilty by omission of failing to act against the infrastructure supplying and supporting salafi guerrillas in northern Sinai, whether or not the less verifiable claims of direct Hamas links with them have a basis.
Given this reality, it is also not hard to understand the Egyptian determination to build an effective physical barrier between the Strip and Egyptian territory.
What of the issue of support for Islamic State? Should these jihadist groups be seen as a southern manifestation of the Sunni jihadist wave now sweeping across Iraq, Syria and increasingly, Lebanon? From an ideological point of view, certainly yes.
From an organizational point of view, the situation is more complex.
According to Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadist groups currently based at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and the Middle East Forum, neither Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis nor Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen have formally pledged their allegiance to the caliphate established by Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Nevertheless, Tamimi confirmed, both organizations have expressed “support” for Islamic State and its objectives, while not subordinating themselves to it through a pledge of allegiance.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is known to maintain contacts with Islamic State, which has advised it on the mechanics of carrying out operations. Islamic State, meanwhile, has publicly declared its support for the jihadists in northern Sinai, without singling out any specific group for public support.
Tamimi further notes the existence of two smaller and more obscure groups in Gaza with more direct links to Islamic State.
These are Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis (The Group of Helpers/ Supporters of the Islamic State in Bayt al-Maqdis), which carries out propaganda activities from Gaza and helps funnel volunteers to Syria and Iraq, and the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion, a Gazan contingent fighting with Islamic State in these countries.
So, a number of conclusions can be drawn: Firstly, Hamas, in its tolerance of and engagement with smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, at least indirectly permits the jihadists networks operating these tunnels to wage their insurgency against Egypt – even if the claims of a direct Hamas link to violent activities in Sinai have not yet been conclusively proven.
Secondly, the most important organizations engaged in this insurgency support Islamic State, and are supported by them, though the former have not yet pledged allegiance and become directly subordinate to the latter.
Islamic State is not yet in northern Sinai, but its close allies are. Their activities are tolerated by the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip – as long as they are directed outward, against Egypt and Israel.
Jonathan Spyer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
President Barak Obama has rightfully condemned the ISIS beheading of American James Foley in the strongest terms. This is what he said:
“There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of the kind of a nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is group like (ISIS) has no place in the 21st century. Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security a set of values opposite of what we saw yesterday. We will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and stability.”
At the same time that President Obama has called for an all-out war against the “cancer” of ISIS, he has regarded Hamas as having an easily curable disease, urging Israel to accept that terrorist group, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, as part of a Palestinian unity government. I cannot imagine him urging Iraq, or any other Arab country, to accept ISIS as part of a unity government.
Former President Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu have gone even further, urging the international community to recognize the legitimacy of Hamas as a political party and to grant it diplomatic recognition. It is hard to imagine them demanding that the same legitimate status be accorded ISIS.
Why then the double standard regarding ISIS and Hamas? Is it because ISIS is less brutal and violent than Hamas? It’s hard to make that case. Hamas has probably killed more civilians—through its suicide bombs, its murder of Palestinian Authority members, its rocket attacks and its terror tunnels—than ISIS has done. If not for Israel’s Iron Dome and the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas would have killed even more innocent civilians. Indeed its charter calls for the killing of all Jews anywhere in the world, regardless of where they live or which “rock” they are hiding behind. If Hamas had its way, it would kill as least as many people as ISIS would.
Is it the manner by which ISIS kills? Beheading is of course a visibly grotesque means of killing, but dead is dead and murder is murder. And it matters little to the victim’s family whether the death was caused by beheading, by hanging or by a bullet in the back of a head. Indeed most of ISIS’s victims have been shot rather than beheaded, while Hamas terrorists have slaughtered innocent babies in their beds, teenagers on the way home from school, women shopping, Jews praying and students eating pizza.
Is it because ISIS murdered an American? Hamas has murdered numerous Americans and citizens of other countries. They too are indiscriminate in who they kill.
Is it because ISIS has specifically threatened to bring its terrorism to American shores, while Hamas focuses its terrorism in Israel? The Hamas Charter does not limit its murderous intentions to one country. Like ISIS it calls for a worldwide “caliphate,” brought about by violent Jihad.
Everything we rightly fear and despise from ISIS we should fear and despise from Hamas. Just as we would never grant legitimacy to ISIS, we should not grant legitimacy to Hamas—at the very least until it rescinds its charter and renounces violence. Unfortunately that is about as likely as America rescinding its constitution. Violence, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are the sine qua non of Hamas’ mission.
Just as ISIS must be defeated militarily and destroyed as a terrorist army, so too must Hamas be responded to militarily and its rockets and tunnels destroyed.
It is widely, and in my view mistakenly, argued by many academics and diplomats that there can never be a military solution to terrorism in general or to the demands of Hamas in particular. This conventional wisdom ignores the lessons of history. Chamberlain thought there could be a diplomatic solution to Hitler’s demands. Churchill disagreed. History proved Churchill correct. Nazi Fascists and Japanese militarists had to be defeated militarily before a diplomatic resolution could be achieved.
So too with ISIS and Hamas. They must first be defeated militarily and only then might they consider accepting reasonable diplomatic and political compromises. Another similarity between ISIS and Hamas is that if these terrorist groups were to lay down their arms, there might be peace, whereas if their enemies were to lay down their arms, there would be genocide.
A wonderful cartoon illustrates this: at one end of the table is Hamas demanding “death to all the Jews!” At the other end is Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. In the middle sits the mediator, who turns to Netanyahu and asks: “Can’t you at least come half way?”
No democratic nation can accept its own destruction. We cannot compromise—come half way—with terrorists who demand the deaths of all who stand in the way of their demand for a Sunni caliphate, whether these terrorists call themselves ISIS or Hamas. Both are, in the words of President Obama, “cancers” that must be extracted before they spread. Both are equally malignant. Both must be defeated on the battlefield, in the court of public opinion and in the courts of law. There can be no compromise with bigotry, terrorism or the demand for a caliphate. Before Hamas or ISIS can be considered legitimate political partners, they must give up their violent quest for a worldwide Islamic caliphate.
Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are rarely compared. But the way these two presidents have dealt with crises in the Middle East provides instructive contrasts on the nature of leadership.
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon, a man more associated with skullduggery than leadership. But in October 1973, when his Vice President was resigning in disgrace and the congressional investigation into his own misconduct was moving to its fatal conclusion, Nixon demonstrated how a leader can take command, master events, and shape history.
President Obama has not abandoned Israel, nor has he declared himself neutral in its current struggle against Hamas. But time after time, he has undercut Israel’s position, in an effort to curry favor with a hostile world.
His Secretary of State tried to involve Turkey and Qatar, two implacable foes of Israel, in the cease-fire negotiations, even though their financial support enabled Hamas to amass the missiles and build the tunnels that threaten Israel. After an Israeli shell landed close to a UNRWA school in Rafah, his Administration joined the global anti-Israel chorus. Before any investigation could be conducted, the State Department immediately declared itself “appalled” by Israel’s “disgraceful” act – even though Hamas rockets have been found in UNRWA schools at least three times, and even though the U.S. armed forces conducted similar attacks against schools used by hostile forces in Afghanistan. (The Israeli 4-year old boy killed on Friday was the victim of a missile fired from a site near a UNRWA school.)
Most disturbing, Obama’s White House has recently changed the military-to-military relationship by which American weaponry has been transferred to Israel, to require White House and State Department approval. Now these are U.S. weapons, and it is of course up to the U.S. government to set the protocols for their transfer. But to change the rules so abruptly, while Israel is under daily bombardment, is unprecedented.
Once again, it represented the Obama Administration’s tendency to placate the world, rather than stand by a lonely ally. This emerges from an observation by a “senior Obama Administration official” to the Wall Street Journal:
“We have many, many friends around the world. The United States is their strongest friend,” the official said. “The notion that they are playing the United States, or that they’re manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world.”
In other words, the Administration was telling Israel by these leaked remarks: We have many friends. You do not. Don’t ever forget it.
Sniping at friends to placate their enemies is not leadership. It is not even shrewdness. The United States has won no new friends from undercutting Israel.
To see a different kind of leadership, travel back in time and consider the performance of Richard Nixon in October 1973.
Israel faced a military crisis. Egypt and Syria, backed by nine Arab states and lavishly supplied by the Soviet Union, attacked on Yom Kippur. Israeli forces were thrown back in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Prime Minister Golda Meir that Israel faced imminent defeat. The situation was so dire, that the Israeli government considered resorting to a last ditch nuclear option.
In this crisis situation, Richard Nixon ordered a massive airlift of military supplies to Israel. During a 32-day period beginning October 14, jumbo U.S. military aircraft touched down in Israel 567 times, delivering some 22,300 tons of material.
Conducting such an operation was a complicated task. Then, as now, Israel was not popular on the international scene. Fearful of the Arabs’ oil weapon, NATO allies refused to allow U.S. transport planes to refuel in their countries – even while NATO members Turkey and Greece were allowing Soviet supply planes to overfly their territory. Ultimately, the U.S. managed to pressure Portugal to allow landing in the Azores for refueling.
Meanwhile, in Washington, bureaucratic hurdles threatened to delay the airlift. Nixon took charge personally. White House counsel Leonard Garment recalled:
It was Nixon who did it. I was there. As [bureaucratic bickering between the State and Defense departments] was going back and forth, Nixon said, “This is insane….He just ordered Kissinger, Get your [behind] out of here and tell those people to move. “
Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, concerned by the reaction of the Arabs and Soviets to the airlift, advised sending just three transports. Nixon responded: “We are going to get blamed just as much for three as for 300…Get them in the air, now.”
Nixon worked closely with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the airlift. When Kissinger gave him a list of the type and quantity of weaponry sought by the Israeli military, Nixon ordered him to double it, then added: “Now get the hell out of here and get the job done.” Informed of a delay caused by disagreements in the Pentagon over which planes to use, Nixon shouted at Kissinger: “[Expletive] it, use every one we have. Tell them to send everything that can fly.”
The airlift helped turn the tide. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat proposed a ceasefire enforced by Soviet and U.S. troops on the ground. The U.S. rejected the proposal. Soviet leader Brezhnev then threatened to send Russian troops to the Middle East unilaterally. Nixon ordered that U.S. military to be put on high alert. Air Force strike units were prepared for attack, and two aircraft carriers were deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean. Brezhnev backed down.
Richard Nixon neither sought nor received any political gain for his decisive leadership. The Watergate investigation intensified, culminating in his resignation ten months later. American Jews, who voted overwhelmingly for Humphrey in 1968 and McGovern in 1972, remained, and remain today, hostile to the man.
But Golda Meir never forgot Nixon’s leadership. For the rest of her life she referred to him as “my president.” She once said, in tones reminiscent of the Passover haggadah: “For generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States bringing in the material that meant life to our people.”
It is doubtful that any Israeli, of any political persuasion, will ever remember Barack Obama as “my president.”
It is also doubtful that friends of the United States in other parts of the globe will remember him that way. When Iranian populists remember Obama, they are likely to remember him as the President who reached out to the regime’s theocratic dictators, but failed to support the courageous demonstrators of the Green Revolution. When the Poles and Czechs remember Obama, they are likely to recall him as the President who reneged on the promise to build a missile defense shield in Europe, to avoid irritating the Russians. When Ukrainians remember Obama, they are likely to recall him as the President who, after the non-irritated Russians annexed the Crimea, responded by airlifting, not weapons, but 300,000 ready-to-eat meals.
The irony of leadership is that it often proves a more effective tool to win over foes than supplication. Obama’s forbearance has won the United States no points from Russia or Iran, or any of our other opponents. It has only disappointed our friends. In contrast, Richard Nixon steadfastly supported Israel during wartime – and was lionized by Egyptians in the aftermath of that war after brokering a ceasefire.
In June 1974, just weeks before his resignation, Nixon visited Egypt and rode in an open railway car from Alexandria to Cairo with President Sadat. An estimated 6 million Egyptians lined the route, cheering him. Sadat saluted Nixon with these words:
Since the 6th of October, and since the change that took place in the American foreign policy, peace is now available in the area. And President Nixon never gave a word and didn’t fulfill it; he has fulfilled every word he gave.
Richard Nixon was a man of many flaws, not least of which was a strong strain of anti-Semitism. But he was also a leader. The current President, driven to make America liked again, may have more charity in his heart, but he has far less spinal fluid in his backbone.
Lawrence J. Siskind is a San Francisco attorney, who blogs on issues of politics, foreign policy, law, and culture, at ToPutItBluntly.com.
Today, Saturday, July 26th, the news are that Prime Minster Netanyahu agreed to offer a 12 hours pause in the assault on Hamas in honor of the Muslim Eid al Fitr celebration and Hamas agreed to obey as well. The general hope is that the time will be used to start negotiations that could justify an extension of this truce. So far these news rated page 8 of the New York Times.
We follow very closely these events as SUSTAINABILITY in the Middle East requires a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the creation of an agreed upon and legitimized two or three States solution in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
After the release of the Genie of War from his temporary tunnel. Israel cannot allow another temporary non-solution that will clearly lead only to renewed fighting down the road. Kick the Can time is over they say. The destruction of the military capability of Hamas and making safe the frontiers around the Gaza Strip – so no tunneling under those frontiers will continue in the aftermass of the 2914 conflict.
In these conditions Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cabinet have no interest in a 7 days cease-fire suggested by US Secretary of State Mr. Kerry, neither does Israel consider pulling back the military equipment and the military from the recent incursion into the Gaza Strip without having achieved first the destruction of those tunnels – some as three mile long. Nor will Israel allow bringing in cement to the Gaza Strip before there is an authority to monitor that this cement is used for housing and roads and not for repairing those tunnels and build new ones.
Those issues are fully known to Mr. Kerry and he also mentions them in his argument for cease-fire and negotiations, but here comes his meeting in Cairo where besides the President and Foreign Minister of Egypt acting as hosts, he also faced the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who was pulled in as International Boss by the Amir of Qatar.to whom Mr. Kerry had to give homage in order to get the UN into this as representing the World at large – knowing that he came here on money from the main backer of the Hamas, while he himself, Mr. Ban, is in effect leaning on help from the Arab League at large that was represented in Cairo thus by the boss of the boss – Mr. Nabil AlArabi, Secretary -General of the Arab League that Mr, Ban Ki-moon recognizes as representing the Middle East region without Israel at the UN. So far as the UN goes, Israel is not in Western Asia, but in Europe and “Others” – somewhat closer to the moon.
The real power the four elements that met in Cairo on July 24th is shown in the reporting from the US Department of State that we post here in full. The last speaker being obviously the one who thinks he represents the power of Sunni Islam – Arab and Turkish
Nabil AlAraby (born 15 March 1935 in Egypt) is an experienced Egyptian diplomat who has been Secretary-General of the Arab League since July 2011. Previously, he was Foreign Minister of Egypt in Essam Sharaf’s post revolution government from March to June 2011. Elaraby was Legal Adviser and Director in the Legal and Treaties Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1976 to 1978 and then Ambassador to India from 1981 to 1983; he then returned to his previous post at the Foreign Ministry from 1983 to 1987.
He was Legal Adviser to the Egyptian delegation to the Camp David Middle East peace conference in 1978, Head of the Egyptian delegation to the Taba negotiations from 1985 to 1989, and Agent of the Egyptian Government to the Egyptian-Israeli arbitration tribunal (Taba dispute) from 1986 to 1988. He was appointed by the Egyptian Minister of Justice on the list of arbitrations in civil and commercial affairs in Egypt in 1995.
In 1968 Elaraby was an Adlai Stevenson Fellow in International Law at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). He was appointed a Special Fellow in International Law at UNITAR in 1973, and was Legal Adviser to the Egyptian delegation to the United Nations Geneva Middle East peace conference from 1973-1975.
AlAraby has served as Chairman for the First (Disarmament and international security questions) Committee of the General Assembly, the Informal Working Group on an Agenda for Peace, the Working Group on Legal Instruments for the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the UN Special Committee on Enhancing the Principle of the Prohibition of the Use of Force in International Relations.
Other international work:
AlAraby was an Arbitrator at the International Chamber of Commerce International Court of Arbitration in Paris in a dispute concerning the Suez Canal from 1989 to 1992. He was a judge in the Judicial Tribunal of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1990.
AlAraby was a member of the governing board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute from 2000 to 2010. Since December 2008 he has been serving as the Director of the Regional Cairo Centre for International Commercial Arbitration and as a counsel of the Sudanese government in the “Abyei Boundary” Arbitration between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Revolutionary Movement.
AlAraby has also served as a Member of the Board for the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, a Member of the Board for the Egyptian Society of International Law, and a Member of the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Centre List of Neutrals.
2011 Egyptian revolution and transitional government:
Nabil AlAraby was one of the group of about 30 high-profile Egyptians acting as liaison between the protesters and the government, and pressing for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.
At a democracy forum on 25 February 2011, he said the Egyptian government suffered from a lack of separation of powers, a lack of transparency and a lack of judicial independence.
He said foreign policy should be based on Egypt’s interests, including “holding Israel accountable when it does not respect its obligations.“
Remarks With UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Good evening. You know that Egypt is – the serious military escalation in Gaza and what the Palestinian people have been exposed to in terms of destruction – broad destruction and killing of civilians that claimed up until now over 800 civilians and thousands of injured. We are working incessantly to end this crisis and to spare the Palestinian people of the dangers it has been exposed to, and to prevent further military escalation. And this has led to the proposal – to us proposing our plan, and we should know that Egypt has not spared any effort to stop – or to reach a cease-fire to protect the Palestinian people and to allow for negotiations to start between the two parties in order to discuss all the issues, in order to restore stability in the Gaza strip, and to meet the needs of the brotherly Palestinian people, and to also prevent further violence which the Palestinian civilians have been exposed to.
We have continued our efforts since the beginning of the military escalation to achieve this goal in cooperation with the U.S. and the secretary-general of the UN and the secretary-general of the Arab League and other parties – other regional and international parties in order to achieve this goal. We once again call for the immediate cease-fire, a cease of all actions in order to protect the Palestinian people. And given that the parties have not shown any – sufficient willingness to stop this, we are calling for a humanitarian cease-fire to observe the holy days that we are on the verge of observing at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid for a period of seven days, in the hope that this will lead – will prompt the parties to heed the calls of conscience and humanitarian needs in order to reach a comprehensive cease-fire, and also begin negotiations in order to prevent the reoccurrence of this crisis.
And also, to propose a good framework for this objective, we have consulted over the last few days in order to formulate a formula that would be agreed to by all the sides, and also to stop the bloodshed. But unfortunately, we have to exert further effort in order to realize our common goals in this regard. The proposed ideas were focused or fell within the same framework that the Egyptian plan proposed. And once again, we will call on all parties to benefit from it and to accept it definitively. I would like on this occasion also to allow the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to speak.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. All right. Well, let me start again. I want to thank Sameh Shoukry and President al-Sisi and Egypt for their very warm welcome here, but most importantly for their continued efforts to try to find a way to achieve a cease-fire agreement in Gaza and then beyond that, to be able to resolve the critical issues that are underlying this conflict. I thank Sameh for his help today and the work we’ve been doing together. We’ve made some movement and progress, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.
I also want to thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has traveled and worked tirelessly in these past days throughout the international community to try to bring people together, as well as Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby for his close partnership in this effort. They’ve been sources of good advice and also of tireless effort. So this is a broad effort with a broad based sense that something needs to be done.
I also want to acknowledge President Abbas who has traveled to any number of countries in recent days, and whom I met with just the other day, who expressed his desire – strong desire to achieve a cease-fire as rapidly as possible, and he has been passionately advocating for the Palestinian people and the future of the Palestinian state.
Let me just say that the agony of the events on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, all of them together, simply cannot be overstated. The daily reality for too many people of grief and blood and loss and tears, it all joins together to pull at the fabric of daily life in each of their communities.
In Israel, millions of people are living under constant threat of Hamas rocket fire and tunnel attacks, and they’re ready to take cover at any moment’s notice. And I’ve had telephone conversations with the prime minister interrupted by that fact. Earlier this week I had a chance to visit with the family of a young man by the name of Max Steinberg, an American – one of two Americans killed in this devastating conflict – and his mother Naftali Fraenkel, who was murdered at the outset – whose son was murdered at the very outset of this crisis.
So any parent in the world, regardless of somebody’s background, can understand the horror of losing a child or of seeing these children who are caught in the crossfire. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians have died over the past few weeks, including a tragic number of civilians. And we’ve all read the headlines and seen the images of the devastation: 16 people killed and more than 200 injured in just a single attack yesterday; women and children being wheeled away on stretchers; medics pulling shrapnel out of an infant’s back; a father nursing his three-year-old son. The whole world is watching a – tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering: When is everybody going to come to their senses?
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve and need to lead normal lives, and it’s time for everyone to recognize that violence breeds violence and that the short-term tactical gains that may be made through a violent means simply will not inspire the long-term change that is necessary and that both parties really want.
I have been in the region since Monday at the request of President Obama, and I’ve spent five days on the ground here and also in Israel in the West Bank engaging in countless discussions with leaders throughout the region and even around the world, conversations lasting, obviously, late into the night and through the day. We have gathered here, my colleagues and I have gathered here together because we believe that it is impossible for anybody to simply be inactive and not try to make government work to deal with this bloodshed. We need to join together and push back.
Specifically, here is what we’ve been working to try to bring about. At this moment, we are working toward a brief seven days of peace – seven days of a humanitarian cease-fire in honor of Eid, in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable cease-fire for the long run, and to work to create the plans for that long haul.
The fact is that the basic structure is built on the Egyptian initiative, but the humanitarian concept is one that Egypt has agreed to embrace in an effort to try to honor Eid and bring people together at this moment. Seven days, during which the fundamental issues of concern for Israel – security, the security of Israel and its people – and for the Palestinians – the ability to know that their social and economic future can be defined by possibilities, and that those issues will be addressed. We believe that Egypt has made a significant offer to bring people to Cairo – the factions, the Palestinian factions and representatives of interested states and the state of Israel – in order to begin to try to negotiate the way forward.
Now, why are we not announcing that that has been found yet tonight? For a simple reason: That we still have some terminology in the context of the framework to work through. But we are confident we have a fundamental framework that can and will ultimately work. And what we need to do is continue to work for that, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We believe that seven days will give all the parties the opportunity to step back from the violence and focus on the underlying causes, perhaps take some steps that could build some confidence, and begin to change the choices for all.
We don’t yet have that final framework, but I will tell you this: None of us here are stopping. We are going to continue the conversations. And right now, before I came in here tonight, I had conversations with people on both sides of this conflict. Just spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who made it clear that he wants to try to find this way forward. I think the Secretary-General, who has graciously called for a 12-hour cease-fire, will speak in a moment about that possibility and where it will go. And Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indicated his willingness to do that as a good-faith down payment and to move forward. And I’m grateful to the Secretary-General for his leadership in that regard.
But in the end, the only way that this issue is going to be resolved, this conflict, is for the parties to be able to come together and work through it as people have in conflicts throughout history. And it’s our hope, and we intend to do everything possible. Tomorrow, I will be in Paris, where I will meet with some of our counterparts, my counterparts, and where I will also meet with other players who are important to this discussion in an effort to be able to try to see if we can narrow the gap. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to try to help do that over the course of the next day.
So we begin with at least the hope of a down payment on a cease-fire, with the possibility of extension, a real possibility in the course of tomorrow. And hopefully, if we can make some progress, the people in this region who deserve peace can find at least one step towards that elusive goal. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Secretary-General.
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN: Thank you, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, League of Arab States Secretary-General al-Araby. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Assalamu alaikum, Ramadan Kareem.
Let me begin by commending all the leaders here today. I’d like to particularly thank President Sisi of Egypt and Foreign Minister Shoukry as the host of this initiative to have made ceaseless efforts to bring all the parties together. And I also commend highly the leadership and commitment and tirelessly – tireless diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, and it has been a source of inspiration to work with all these distinguished colleagues. And I have been obviously closely working with League of Arab States Secretary General al-Araby.
This is my sixth day in the region visiting eight countries, 11 stops, meeting kings, amirs, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, over meeting, over telephones. I have been working very closely with the leaders here as well as all the leaders in the region. I really appreciate their kind cooperation and leadership. Our joint effort is a clear signal of a global commitment to end the bloodshed and destruction that is tearing apart the lives of hope and the hopes of so many innocent civilians. People of Gaza have bled enough. They are trapped and besieged in a tiny, densely populated sliver of land. Every bit of it is a civilian area. The Israeli people have been living under the constant fear of Hamas rocket attacks. Tensions are spreading further. We are seeing growing unrest in the West Bank. Surely now, the parties must realize that it is time for them to act, and solutions must be based on three important issues.
First, stop the fighting. We called for a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire extending over the Eid period, beginning with a extendable 12-hour pause. Second, start talking. There is no military solution to addressing the grievances, and all parties must find a way to dialogue. Third, tackle the root causes of the crisis. This effort – peace effort – cannot be the same as it was the last two Gaza conflicts, where we reset the clock and waited for the next one. The ongoing fighting emphasizes the need to finally end the 47-year-old occupation, end the chokehold on Gaza, ensure security based on mutual recognition and achieve a viable two-state solution, by which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security side by side.
Along with world and regional leaders, we continue to make every effort to forge a durable cease-fire for the people of Gaza and Israel based on those three pillars. Progress is being made, but there is much more work to do. We may not be satisfied with what we are now proposing, but we have to build upon what we are now proposing. In the meantime, more children are dying every hour of every day.
Ladies and gentlemen, today is the last Friday of Ramadan. The world is just away from marking Eid-al-Fitr. Let us all take inspiration from this season of peace and reflection. The United Nations is fully committed to ensuring the success of this proposal and securing hope and dignity for all the people of Palestine and Israel. And I thank you again for all leaders in the region and in the world who have been working together with the United Nations and the leaders here to bring peace and security to this region. I thank you very much. Shukran Jazilan.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Via interpreter.) Secretary-general of the United – of the Arab League.
SECRETARY GENERAL AL-ARABY: (Via interpreter.) Thank you very much. I would like to thank also the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is a very serious and grave situation. There are martyrs in Palestine have been – have died as a result of the Israeli aggression and the violation of the principles of international humanitarian law. People have been fired at, children are falling, and all civilians are being killed. This is the holiest month in the Islamic world, as those before me have mentioned. And on the eve of the Eid, we would like to support and uphold the idea of a cease-fire, as Mr. John Kerry has said and also the UN Secretary-General has said.
But before I conclude my very brief remarks, I would like to say that the occupation and the siege on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – these are occupied territories. We cannot imagine that the siege and the occupation, that there would be no resistance to them. For that reason, everyone should work to end this conflict. I would allow myself to say, in English and in very simple and brief language: (In English) In a very simple and concise way, that as much as I support the humanitarian (inaudible), but we have to look at it. I think everyone has to do that. We have to look ahead. Then it’s diplomacy, and then (inaudible) results. We have to dedicate ourselves, all of us, to reach a final solution. That means the end of the occupation. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) We will be taking four questions, from Arshad (inaudible) first of all.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Good evening.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Mr. United Nations Secretary-General has to leave.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Good evening. My question is for Mr. John Kerry and Minister Sameh Shoukry. You’ve launched this proposal or plan. Has there been – have there been contacts between the two sides, and how far have you reached in these contexts, especially that the Eid is approaching fast?
With respect to the rules of engagement that Israel uses in Israel and in Gaza and the West Bank, and what we’ve seen in terms of destruction of and demolishing of hospitals, have you received any guarantees from Israel that these actions would not be repeated? And thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to the negotiating process, it’s inappropriate to sort of lay out all the details, but of course we’re talking to everybody that we can talk to who has an ability to have an impact, and obviously I’m talking directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu and directly to other foreign ministers in the region, some of whom have different ways of talking with different factions of Palestinians, as well as talking to President Abbas. In the course of that, it’s very clear to me that under very difficult circumstances some are ready to move and others are reluctant and need assurances of one kind or another. And clearly, given the history, some of those assurances are sometimes difficult to be able to make and formulate appropriately so that somebody else doesn’t wind up being – struggling with them. That’s why the simplicity of this is really the best, which is come to the table and negotiate.
But to the degree that either side needs assurances of one thing or another being talked about, without outcomes, no preconditions, but something being negotiated and talked about, then you get in a contest of priorities and other kinds of things.
I believe we can work through those things. We have. The basic outline is approved by everybody. People believe that if the circumstances are right, the structure is right, a cease-fire makes sense, a cease-fire is important, and people would like to see the violence end. But it has to obviously be in ways that neither side feels prejudiced or their interests compromised.
So that’s what we’re working on. I think we’ve made serious progress. We sat today, worked some things out to deal with some of those sensitivities, but basically we still have some more things to do over the course of the next 24 or 48 hours, and we’re going to do that. My hope is that the 12 hours will be extended, perhaps to 24, and that people will draw from that the goodwill and effort to try to find a solution. But it takes – the parties have to come together and reach an understanding, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on because it’s urgent for innocent people who get caught in the crossfire, and obviously the – as I said in my opening remarks, people in Israel deserve to live free from fear that their home or their school will be rocketed, but people in Palestine, the Palestinian territories and people in Gaza have a right to feel free from restraints on their life where they can barely get the food or the medicine or the building materials and the things that they need.
So there’s a lot on the table. It’s been complicated for a long time; it didn’t get easy last night. But we’re going to continue to work at this, and I’m confident that with goodwill, with good effort, I think progress can hopefully be made.
FOREIGN SECRETARY SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Certainly, since the outbreak of the crisis in Gaza, we have been in contact with all parties, with the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. We have expended serious efforts based on our own Egyptian initiative, and also in cooperation with the American side. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank you, to thank Mr. Kerry for his efforts and – that he has spent and continues to expend, and his cooperation in order to achieve a complete cease-fire to protect the Palestinian people.
Military action and the serious escalation and the serious strikes taking place against the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, prove the importance of immediate action to end this crisis so that it would not result or lead to more serious ramifications, not just in the occupied territories, but in the region as a whole. The framework we talk about is a framework that is – that the U.S. Secretary of State has talked about – is based on the Egyptian initiative, and also based on the idea of encouraging the parties to interact with it, so that we can reach a complete cease-fire and seizure of all military action, and to also save civilians from being targeted, and to end the bloodshed, just like the strike against the school yesterday. Such actions should not be repeated and should completely end, and so should military action.
And a temporary humanitarian cease-fire should be accepted to give a chance, an opportunity for interaction between the various parties, and perhaps expand it beyond there, so that all parties would come to recognize that a comprehensive solution to all this crisis and to the Palestinian conflict should be reached, and also to establish a Palestinian state in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a grave situation.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Arshad Mohammed.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, as I imagine you are aware, there are multiple reports that the Israeli cabinet today rejected the cease-fire proposal that you had on the table and said they wanted modifications. Do you regard that as just a negotiating ploy or do you regard it as likely to be a more definitive rejection?
And secondly, have you made any direct progress on getting the Egyptians to commit to opening Rafah, on getting the Israelis to commit to increasing traffic at the Erez crossing, and on getting Hamas to agree to let Israeli troops stay in the Gaza Strip during a truce? If you haven’t made any headway on those issues, how is it possible – after five days of diplomacy, how is it possible to describe these days as having produced serious progress?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me deal with the first issue, which is the fiction of diplomacy and of politics at the same time. There was no formal proposal or final proposal or proposal ready for a vote submitted to Israel. Let’s make that absolutely crystal clear. And Prime Minister Netanyahu called me a few minutes before this to make it clear that that is an error, inaccurate, and he’s putting out a statement to that effect. They may have rejected some language or proposal within the framework of some kind of suggestion at some point in time, but there was no formal proposal submitted from me on which there should have been a vote or on which a vote was ripe. We were having discussions about various ideas and various concepts of how to deal with this issue, and there’s always mischief from people who oppose certain things, and I consider that one of those mischievous interpretations and leaks which is inappropriate to the circumstances of what we’ve been doing and are engaged in.
With respect to the individual issues that you raised, I’m not going to make any announcements and I’m certainly not going to reveal issues that are of a bilateral nature between Egypt and the United States or the United States and another country, but I will simply tell you in a candid way that those issues were talked about, and I am satisfied with the responses that I received with respect to how they might affect the road ahead. And each and every one of them I believe there are ways of moving forward.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) (Inaudible)
QUESTION: My question is for Secretary Kerry and the Egyptian foreign minister. First of all, it seems that all of those efforts, the phone calls, visits have led only to a cease-fire for seven hours. Why is the reasons for not having more achievements? Who is blockading having more achievements in this? Is it Israel, or is it Hamas? Is it the Palestinians? Who is going to – we are going to blame on this? Because we have heard that Israel refused. As you have said, it’s not correct, but it was published that Israel refused, actually, some ideas of having more cease-fire, more than seven hours.
Also, it seems that all of this is because the peace process has stopped, actually, because of the settlements of Israel. This is the main cause – the blockade of course, and other things on the Gaza, the boycotts on Gaza. People can’t have food or water or other things, but also the peace process have stopped. You have – Secretary Kerry have done a lot in this, and yet you didn’t say why, who is the reasons behind it stopping.
And my question is for our foreign minister, please. (Via interpreter.) There is a lot of talk about the Rafah Crossing, and that Egypt is – closes this crossing. And there’s also an attempt to blame the siege, the Israeli siege on Gaza, on Egypt, even though it has – Israel has closed six crossings and is responsible for the siege. Can there be some clarification with respect to the Rafah Crossing, and will it continue to be closed in the coming days?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Thank you. With respect to Rafah Crossing, I have repeatedly responded to this, but it seems no one is listening. Rafah Crossing is open continuously and at all times, but it has to be under regulation related to Egyptian policy, and it’s also related to the situation in Sinai. But it is open, and it receives constantly and permanently, around the clock, people from the Gaza Strip for treatment in Egyptian hospitals, and more than 600 or 700 tons of food and medical material have crossed. And the crossing has never been tied or linked to any kind of siege on the Gaza Strip.
The six Israeli crossings that you referred to, they have to be operational. And the responsibility of Israel as an occupation authority is what – it is the responsibility of Israel, and we have called for this in our initiative, that the Israeli crossings need to be open so that the needs and the humanitarian needs of the Gazans should be met, and so that also normal life would be restored to the Gaza Strip. I hope that this response will be widely shared and it’s clear without any attempt to internationalize or to misinterpret the situation.
SECRETARY KERRY: Actually, I think a great deal has been moved in the course of the last days. Though it doesn’t meet your eye yet, those of us who are working this have a feeling that gaps have been significantly narrowed on certain things, but obviously not everything yet.
And in fairness, it’s important to say that, yes, Israel had some questions or even opposition to one concept or another concept – that doesn’t mean to a proposal by any means – at an early stage of discussion. But most importantly, I think it’s important to note that in Ramadan, when everything is on a different schedule, it’s more complicated to be able to have some meetings, particularly when I am mediating between different people who talk to different people. And it’s secondhand, thirdhand, it takes longer. So there’s a certain time consumption in all of that.
But I’m not a – I’m not somebody who I think is going to stand here and misinterpret the difficulties. At the same time, I can recognize progress when I see it and a concept that has taken shape. And I think my colleagues would agree there’s a fundamental concept here that can be achieved if we work through some of the issues of importance to the parties. That’s the art, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen overnight or as quickly as you’d like. But it doesn’t mean it can’t.
And so – by the way, it’s not seven hours; it’s 12 hours with a very likely extension of another 12, hopefully for 24, but we’ll see. The proof will be in the pudding on that. And on the peace process, I’ve purposely tried not to start pointing fingers and getting involved, because to us, the process is not over. It hasn’t stopped, and it doesn’t help to be starting to point fingers. What you have to do is figure out, okay, where do you go from here and how. In the course of this conflict right now, I would respectfully suggest to you there are some very serious warnings about what happens when you don’t have that process, and what happens if you’re not working effectively to try to achieve a resolution of the underlying issues.
This is about the underlying issues. And what we need to do is get through this first. It’s a little surrealistic in the middle of this to be talking about the other process, but those people who have been at this for a long time, my colleagues here and others, absolutely know that that is at the bedrock of much of the conflict and the trouble that we all witness here and that is going to have to be resolved if there is a chance of peace, and we believe there is.
Egypt has been a leader on that. Years ago, Egypt took extraordinary risk, and we all know what the consequences were. Egypt made peace, and it has made a difference. And the truth is that today there’s a great commitment here and elsewhere in the region to be able to get back to the process and try to address those underlying issues.
So it’s not gone. It’s dormant for the moment. It’s in hiatus because of the events that are taking place. But the leaders I’ve talked to tell me that what they’re witnessing now and what they’re seeing now has reinforced in them the notion that they needed to get back to that table as soon as possible and begin to address those concerns.
I don’t know if you want to say anything on that.
SECRETARY GENERAL AL-ARABY: (Via interpreter.) Certainly, with respect to the peace process, we call for the resumption of negotiations under U.S. sponsorship. Based from the point we have – it has stopped at, we do not want to go back to the beginning, but several accomplishments have been made on several issues. And we have to build on this progress in order to reach our ultimate goal, which the entire international community has agreed to: the two-state solution, a Palestinian state on Palestinian land with East Jerusalem, and this is the final solution to this conflict. And this will give the Palestinian people a chance to have a normal life away from killing and destruction, and to also fulfill its aspirations – the aspirations of the Palestinian people in the region, and will also ultimately lead to a final end to the conflict.
MODERATOR: (Speaking in Arabic, not interpreted) at CBS, Margaret Brennan.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, given the protests that we’ve seen in the West Bank over the past 24 hours, which resulted in at least one fatality, do you believe – do you fear that a third intifada is about to happen? And could you clarify – when you said that there’s a difference of terminology in regard to these negotiations, that sounds technical rather conceptual. Can you clarify what you meant there?
SECRETARY KERRY: I can, but I won’t. (Laughter.) I think it’s important to let us work quietly on those things and not put them out in the public domain, but I applaud you for a worthy try.
With respect to the incidents and events on the West Bank, I have learned not to characterize something ahead of time or predict it, and I’m not going to now. But I do know that the leaders I’ve talked to in Israel, in the West Bank, in Jordan are deeply concerned about what they are seeing right now. And it is very, very necessary for all of us to take it into account as we think about the options that we have in front of us. It’s just enormously disturbing to see this kind of passion find its way into violent protests, and in some cases not violent.
But we need to address – it’s a statement to all of us in positions of responsibility, get the job done, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks.
 Max Steinberg’s mother’s name is Evie Steinberg, and Naftali Fraenkel is the name if the murdered American and Israeli teen.
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Presided upon by Mr. Richard N. Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, a panel of six of the Council’s experts in front of two rooms full in audience – one in New York the other in Washington DC, a whole gamut of Middle East problems was put on display and dissected.
The six experts were – Elliott Abrams who started out as staff member of Senators Henry M. Jackson and Daniel P. Moynihan and then moved on to the White House under Presidents Reagan and G.W. Bush; Steven A. Cook who started out at the Brookings Institution, developed an expertise on Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, and is running a blog “From the Potomac to the Euphrates; Robert M. Danin who started out as a journalist reporting from Jerusalem then worked at the State Department on Middle East Affairs and with Tony Blair as his Jerusalem based representative of the Quartet; and Ray Takeyh, a widely published professorial expert on Iran – in Washington D C and Isobel Coleman who at CFR covers Civil Society, Markets and Democracy, comes from the business world, has written extensively on policy, was track leader at the Clinton Global Initiative, was named by Newsweek as one of 150 Women Who Shake the World and her blog is Democracy in Development; and Richard N. Haass who served in the White House at ambassadorial level but argued in a book that Foreign Policy starts at Home – the last two were with us in New York.
This discussion takes place at the beginning of the third week since this latest flare-up of Israel’s war against the Hamas of Gaza. A very fast consensus was reached among the four members of the Washington DC panel that to cool the situation without giving Hamas some credit is really difficult. Israel wants really to destroy the infrastructure of tunnels into Israel. Hamas points out that they managed to-date to beat Israel at that as just a day earlier they demonstrated they are capable to infiltrate Israel through such tunnels. Richard Haass evoked Henry Kissinger who said that what is needed to create a lasting equilibrium is (a) a degree of balance, and (b) a degree of legitimacy that comes from mutual recognition between the forces. The latter point does not exist here. Israel is united and out to eliminate Hamas – but if the fighting continues it is expected that the demand for change in the status quo will get louder in Israel – or just a return to a system that allows only breaks in the fighting will be unacceptable.
Asked about how to bring the Palestinian Authority back into Gaza – the prediction expressed was that Hamas demonstrating that only resistance keeps you in authority will allow Hamas to emerge as winner.Today’s news that Israel bombed a UN managed school filled with displaced Palestinians, and probably also arms bearing Palestinians, will nevertheless put some more outside pressure on Israel.
Further, the news I get today from Vienna is that Saturday there will be large pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Europe on the occasion of the yearly celebration of the Al-Quds Day. This is a PR success for the Hamas – the show of harm done to the Palestinians that are being used as shield to those missiles, and then their misery exploited in order to achieve PR gains based in part also on the unleashing of an existing undertow of Antisemitism-comes-naturally to some layers of Christian Europe. These are aspects that were not looked at by the panel but which play now very seriously a role within Israel. My bet is that Israel will demand that the PA is reintroduced to Gaza at least at its borders – with a minimum role of making sure there are no tunnels. If this becomes part of the US and Egypt brokered solution, the other part will have to be a transparent start to the dissolution of some West Bank settlements. The military defeat of the Hamas can then be viewed as a success of the political leadership of the Hamas in ways acceptable to Israel. Again – these ideas were not expressed at the Town-Hall meeting.
Steven Cook said that the present ruler of Egypt – President Abdel Fattah Saed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi, former Chief of the Army and Minister of Defense – is much more decisive then Mubarak was, and can be counted on to be more decisive in matters of Hamas. Now we have a situation that Egypt and the Saudis hate in full view the Muslim Brotherhood and their off-shoot – the Hamas, while the Amir of Qatar is backing them. So, now we have beside the Sunni – Shia Divide also a Sunni – Sunni Divide which is going and deepening and creates a further Divide between the Brotherhood & Hamas on the one hand and more extremist ISIS & Al Qaeda on the other hand. These latter without an official sponsor from any State. Here again real life went beyond what was said at the CFR panel.
I made it my business to tell the organizer about the day’s news at the UN, the finding by investigative journalist Matthew R. Lee that the UN Secretary General’s charter flight to the Middle East was bankrolled by the Amir of Qatar, a sponsor of Hamas, does in effect put a notch in the UNSG effort in posing as an honest broker on Gaza. I thought this ought to be brought up at the Town Hall meeting and said I can volunteer to raise this as a question – but I could not – this because I was there as Press, and only Members of the CFR are allowed to ask questions. Members come from Think-Tanks but mainly from business. The reality is that the business sectors represented at the CFR are mainly those that belong to old establishments – Members of the International Chamber of Commerce, but no businesses that could profit from an economy less reliant on fossil fuels. The whole concept of energy seems here to still mean those conventional fuels – and it shows. It came up here as well when a question about Energy Independence was answered that though an Energy Revolution did happen lately in the US, we will never be Independent of “Energy” because the World Economy runs on “Energy.”
Many other points came up – and I will now highlight some of them:
– Iran was mentioned in the context that July 20th Vienna meeting was the rage at that time – but then came the Ukraine and Gaza wars. Now Iran was delayed to November 25th and is barely noticed. It was noted that it is only a 4 months delay while it was technically possible to delay it for 6 months. The Iranians believe that they already agreed to the red lines. Can these Red lines be adjusted?
– The Kurds will make now moves to go their own ways. The Turks now play more favorably to the Kurds – but the Kurds continue to be split and fight among themselves.
– Winner Takes All has been disproved for the Middle East. Maliki in Iraq learned it does not work, so did Morsi in Egypt who saw his Brotherhod and himself ousted merciless. I found this an extremely valuable observation for all combatants of the region.
– New forms of COLD WAR. there is one between the Saudis and the Gulf States (Intra Sunni – Sunni) – and there is one between the Saudis and the Iranians. Like in the US-Soviet case this is not a fight between States. mainly it goes on now on Syrian Territory between parts of Syria a country that will be dismembered like Iraq was. In the past governments were oppressive and economically weak, but had power internally – now this did collapse.
– Now we reached a favorite question about the UN. Are there any useful capacities remaining for the UN? Elliot Abrams said that if appointed to the UN he would try to get another job. UNRWA has become more and more controversial – specifically when there is a cease-fire.
But above statement does not sit well with the Secretary’s benefactor on this trip – His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar, who is funding the UN Secretary-General’s current trip to the Middle East, or the Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s Middle East Policy guide, Dr. Nabil ElArabi, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, the linchpin between the opposing two Arab Sunni factions headed by Qatar – the Godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood and of its off-Shoot the Hamas, and Saudi Arabia, that detests those two last named political Islamic fundamentalist organizations. Following this we can say that except in the UN released report of that OFF-THE-CUFF Press conference in the presence of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which can be read at www.un.org/offthecuff/index.asp?c… no other document, press release, or other UN paper has anything as clearly expressed as this. It is always about the suffering of the Gaza Palestinians – the poor poor innocent people that are being bombed continuously by the Israelis because they are being used as human shields to the rocket launchers that hide among them.
Not only that, it is the UN paid for and UN maintained facilities that are used as storage place for the rockets. when such a use of a facility became public the UN paid folks just turned them over to the Hamas. It is just not enough to acknowledge as the UNSG did when in Ramallah on July 22nd that UNRWA’s regular operations were “acutely affected” by the fact that they were used to store weapons. and then say that he strongly condemns “the indiscriminate rocket fire launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza into Israel. I am also alarmed by Israel’s heavy response and corresponding high civilian death toll. This is the “proportionality argument” that forgets that in the World there are more then a billion Muslims and less then 10 million Jews – which would indeed mean a proportionality of 1:1,000 – or in mathematical terms each Jew killed weighs as much as 1,000 Muslims killed – this when the killing is started by people that dream of cleansing their region of the Infidel Jews.
In that video-conference from Ramallah Mr. Ban complains that in the last 5 years, the time he is UN Secretary-General this is his third time to come on an emergency mission tp the region to help in a crisis.
That means the children of Gaza are now living through the third major assault in the last five years of their lives, he said.
Obviously, the UNSG just said the truth which is that just achieving a cease-fire without demilitarization of Gaza achieves nothing else then a short break in a continuing warfare and there is no reasn why Israel should accept this. The ridiculous fact is that Israel nevertheless did accept Egypt’s proposal to allow for just such a break and it was Hamas grand-standing that rejected it. Hamas hates Egypt perhaps even more then their hate for Israel. The ruler of Qatar sees this self destructing attitude of Hamas and has sponsored the UNSG mission in an attempt to save Hamas from Israel and from itself.
The UNSG in his trip was in Egypt as well – just to make sure Egypt does not give up its efforts in the face of this Hamas intransigence and to ask Egypt to figure out a face saving approach for Hamas so they do not look like losers. Will a united Israel cave in to such pressure that leaves the Hamas enemy look like a winner? Specially now when Hamas managed to close Israel’s link to the World by in the post downing of Malaysia 17 in the Ukraine that forces civil airlines to avoid flying over war zones.
To top this all we just received the following e-mail from UN Watch that nixes a UN were Arab States and some sworn anti-Western states are shredding the UN Charter and the UN Declaration on Human rights.
But before we post that e-mail, let us remind the UNSG that his predecessor was able to pass on the very important and here relevant PRINCIPLE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT which here translates into the responsibility of a ruling government to protect its citizens. This is something the Israeli Government is trying to do, but the Hamas that took over the governing of Gaza from the National Palestinian Authority uses its citizens as human shield to their missiles something that has to be undone by outside intervention that removes them from the business of government. Only the Palestinian Authority, with outside help, could do this. Qatar does not back the PA but Hamas. As such the Qatar money carpet used to fly te UNSG to the Middle East may have been a very bad idea. It seems that this is being realized at high levels at the UN and texts are being altered as reported today by Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner City Press Office at the UN who speaks also for FUNCA – the Free UN Coalition For Access.
THE UN WATCH PRESENTATION TODAY IN GENEVA BEFORE THEUNHRC:
GENEVA, July 23, 2014 –The Palestinian ambassador to the UNHRC, together with Iran, Syria, Egypt, Cuba and Venezuela tried but failed to silence UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer during today’s UN Emergency Session on Gaza, as he defended Israel’s right to resist Hamas aggression, and called out the hypocrisy of those who initiated the biased proceeding.
As expected, the council voted 29 to 1 (USA), with 17 abstaining (EU & others), to condemn Israel for “gross violations of international human rights,” and it created a new commission of inquiry to produce a second Goldstone Report. Click here to see the grossly one-sided resolution—and a list of the nations who ignominiously voted for it.
Testimony delivered today, 23 July 2014, by UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer, at the UN Human Rights Council Emergency Session on Gaza
Mr. President, I have just returned here from visiting Israel to tell this assembly, and the world, about the grave situation that I witnessed and experienced.
An entire nation—towns, villages and cities, from the Negev Desert up to the Galilee, from the Judean hills of Jerusalem to the Tel Aviv seashore—has been under brutal and relentless attack, from more than two thousand mortars, rockets and long-range missiles, fired from Gaza toward civilians in every part of the Holy Land.
Never before, in the history of Israel’s seven decades of existence, has its men, women and children come under such a massive aerial assault, forcing them, at the sound of air raid sirens day and night, to run for shelter.
And never before, in the modern history of nations, has a free and democratic society come under such sustained bombardment from a terrorist organization, one that openly strives for and celebrates the murder of civilians, and that, as its general worldview, glorifies death.
Did the world ever imagine that the ancient city of Jerusalem—sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and replete with holy places that are recognized by the United Nations as protected world heritage sites—would be deliberately targeted by indiscriminate rockets?
And yet it is.
During one air raid in Jerusalem, I ran down to the basement of a building with little children crying and traumatized. During an air raid in Tel Aviv, the neighbors of an apartment building showed great strength of spirit in defiance of terrorism, by reaching out to strangers in the shelters, as we heard the booms of the rockets above.
And as I was seated in my airplane, about to depart and return back here to Geneva, the air raid siren went off around the airport. We all had to rush off the plane and seek shelter. You’ve heard the news today: that international airlines are now ceasing to fly to Israel because of this danger.
I believe that the world should salute this terrorized, besieged and embattled nation, which has refused to surrender to demoralization, instead showing such courage, resolve and strength of spirit in surviving—and resisting—this massive aggression.
And people should consider: Is there any precedent in world history for a nation passively to suffer a three-week bombardment of its civilian population, by more than 2,000 deadly rockets?
The attempt by Hamas to shut down Israel’s sole international airport, in a country already besieged by land from hostile forces from north to south, would constitute the strangulation of an artery vital to the life of Israel’s people and economy.
These acts of aggression also target the sovereign rights of the nations under whose flags these airplanes fly.
I ask each ambassador in this chamber to take a moment and imagine terrorists deliberately firing deadly rockets at the airports of Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, or Frankfurt; Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, or Tokyo.
How would your government react?
How long would your nation wait before doing everything in its power to exercise its right, under international law and morality, to resist such aggression?
I turn now to the resolution upon which this Council will soon vote. The text before us denounces Israel, denies its right to self-defence, and disregards Hamas war crimes.
We ask: why does this Council refuse to say that which was said only two weeks ago by the Palestinian ambassador himself?
In an extraordinary moment of candor, Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi admitted, on Palestinian TV, that “each and every” Palestinian missile launched against Israeli civilians constitutes “a crime against humanity.”
And that, by contrast, Israel’s own response actions in Gaza “followed the legal procedures” because, as Hamas spokespersons admitted on TV, “the Israelis warned them to evacuate their homes before the bombardment; but, “as for the missiles launched from our side, we never warn anyone about where these missiles are about to fall or about the operations we carry out.”
Can any UN entity, or any individual, be truly for human rights when they refuse to say that which was said by the Palestinian ambassador himself?
Is it possible that the true purpose of this session is to silence the true victims and voices of human rights around the world by deflecting attention from the world’s worst abuses?
We ask all those who embrace hypocrisy and double standards: if in the past year you didn’t cry out whe thousands of protesters were killed and injured by Turkey, Egypt and Libya; when more victims than ever were hanged by Iran; women and children in Afghanistan were bombed; whole communities were massacred in South Sudan; hundreds in Pakistan were killed by jihadist terror attacks; 10,000 Iraqis were killed by terrorists—
[Egypt interrupts with an objection.]
President of UNHRC Session: We have a point of order. Egypt, you have the floor. Egypt: Mr. President, I think we are meeting today for the special session to discuss the current crisis in Gaza and the violations committed within this crisis. So I don’t see why we have a reason to discuss other issues relating to human rights situations on other countries. United States of America: We think it is relevant to the subject under debate, and therefore you should allow the NGO to continue to speak. Iran: We fully support the point of order made by Egypt. Canada: We urge you to allow the NGO to complete their intervention, which is relevant to the discussions at hand. Israel: It is important that civil society participate in this debate, and we request that you allow this NGO to continue.
Venezuela: We support the point of order made by Egypt.
Palestine: This is not a point of order, but more a clarification. The speaker will continue along the same lines if the speaker is not stopped. I would ask you not to waste any time on this so we can conclude this meeting in good time. Cuba: It is inconceivable that a NGO should be able to come to this Council to distract us with the little time we have to debate an issue which is of such crucial importance as the genocide being committed currently against the Palestinian people. President: I give the floor back to UN Watch, with the request that he adhere to the subject matter under discussion today.
UN Watch: Thank you, Mr. President. I’ll just note that there had been some questions whether the videotape interview of the Palestinian ambassador on Palestinian TV was genuine or not, but we see that the Palestinian ambassador has just intervened—and has failed to deny those remarks. Let the record show that.
Finally, we ask: If those who refuse to speak out for Palestinians—1800 Palestinians, if not more—who were starved to death, murdered, by Assad in Syria, but you only cry out when Israel can be blamed, then you are not pro human rights, you are only anti-Israel.
Syria: We’re used to hearing this NGO creating divisions among the speakers, and speaking out of turn. It is strange to hear an NGO defending the killing of women and children, and the destruction of infrastructure in Palestine. I would hope that the speaker is no longer allowed to continue his statement. President: I give the floor back to UN Watch.
Hillel: Thank you, Mr. President. Let the world note: that in a session purportedly on Palestinian human rights, the government of Syria objected to us mentioning the 1800 Palestinians that they starved and murdered.
Inner City Press: As I asked you before, and I know that you had said you would answer at some point, how did the Secretary-General fly from New York to Qatar? Was it on a Qatari plane, and what safeguards are in place? Would he take a flight from any nation?
Spokesman Dujarric: Okay, Matthew, it was the Qatari Government [that] very generously chartered a plane for the Secretary-General to enable him to go about his visit. This is not the kind of visit that we could do if we were not flying on a private plane. It is not a Qatari plane; it was chartered. It is a British-registered plane, as some of you will be able to see on the photos. But, it is a private aircraft funded by the Qatari Government.
Should the UN Secretary General in a mediation attempt accept free travel from a country with a particular interest in the conflict to be mediated?
Inner City Press: you are saying that the use of private planes, generically if necessary, is signed off by the ethics office, but my question is, private planes provided by anyone? Would the Secretary-General, would he accept such service from any Member State, or would he accept it from corporations? The question becomes, given that particular countries have different views of the conflict, what review is made before accepting a particular country’s contribution?
Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq: Well, we do have, like I said, an ethics office and a legal office that can look into these things and see whether something is appropriate or not.
Inner City Press: Was this particular flight checked or you’re saying there’s a generic ruling in advance that any private plane is okay?
Deputy Spokesman Haq: No, I don’t think there’s a generic ruling about this, but certainly, if you need to justify this for essential needs, and something like this, a trip that the Secretary-General was able to embark on and made the decision on just at the end of last week and then had to travel, starting Saturday evening, something like that would have been extremely hard or basically impossible to do in a different sort of way.
Inner City Press: I’m asking because in the budget Committee, often many, particularly developing world countries, they say that things should be funded out of the UN’s general budget rather than taking voluntary contributions from States that then have influence. So, my question is, isn’t there a travel budget? We’ve asked in this room many times to know what the budget is, so I’d still like to know that. But, if there is a budget, why wasn’t the general UN budget used for this rather than taking a specific gift from a specific country? That’s the question.
Deputy Spokesman Haq: The worry is, of course, if you run out of money early, does that mean you can’t travel, even if there’s a crisis? In this case, there was a crisis that necessitated sudden travel.
Lead spokesman Dujarric replied but did not answer on July 19. When he called in to the UN noon briefing from Cairo on July 21, Inner City Press asked him again on whose plane Ban is traveling.
This time, Dujarric answered that Ban is flying on a Qatar government funded, UK registered plane. But he did not answer if there are any safeguards against influence or conflicts of interest. Would Ban accept free flights from any UN member state? From anyone at all?
Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, who said the UN Ethics Office said taking private planes is okay when necessary.
But private planes from ANYONE? Any member state? A corporation? There have been no real answers, yet. But there need to be.
Diplomats told Inner City Press that Ban would fly — on a Qatari plane — to Qatar, Ramallah (but not for now Gaza), Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait.
The diplomats who complained to Inner City Press questioned not only Ban taking free flights from a particular country, but also how the use (and landing) of a Qatari plane will play in, for example, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Inner City Press asked Ban’s top two spokespeople, and the spokesperson listed as on weekend duty, the following:
“Please state whether the Secretary General is accepting free transportation from any member state or outside party for his current trip to the region concerning the Gaza crisis, and if so please explain the reason and any safeguards in place against influence or conflict of interest.
“Such disclosure should be common practice; if necessary, note that former Spokesperson Nesirky did answer such Press questions, for example concerning the Secretary General flying on a UAE plane (see sample below). On deadline, thank you in advance.
From: UN Spokesperson – Do Not Reply [at] un.org
Subject: Your questions
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at] InnerCityPress.com
Date: Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 3:00 PM
– The UAE Government provided an aircraft to fly the Secretary-General from Beirut to Abu Dhabi because of time constraints.
Later on July 19, the following was received, which we publish in full 25 minutes after receipt:
From: Stephane Dujarric [at] un.org
Date: Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: Press question if SG is accepting free travel from any member state or outside party, as was disclosed in 2012, on deadline, thanks
To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress [dot] com
Cc: FUNCA [at] funca.info
Dear Matthew, Thanks for your question and thanks for the draft answer. The logistical details of the SG’s trip, including the travel arrangements are still being worked out. Once we are in a position to confirm them, i will revert.
Stephane Dujarric (Mr.)
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
But obviously the “logistical details” of getting to Qatar were worked out – Ban had already been to Qatar, then Kuwait before Cairo.
One asked, what can you solve if you can’t even say how you got there?
Inner City Press thanked Dujarric and his colleagues for the interim response and asked, “both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Poroshenko’s office say they have spoken with the Secretary General and give read-outs. Will a UN read-out be put out? If so, when? If not, why not?”
On July 21, Inner City Press asked Haq, who confirmed the calls took place but nothing about the contents. What is happened with the UN?
The Free UN Coalition for Access is pressing for reforms. We’ll have more on this.
A screenshot of a Hamas diagram, filmed as part of an IDF video from 2009’s Operation Cast Lead, showing how weapons are hidden by mosques. Photo: IDF / Screenshot.
Contrary to international rules of warfare, Hamas has commandeered a large hospital in Gaza City as its “de facto headquarters,” the Washington Post reported.
Buried eight paragraphs in, The Post‘s correspondent, William Booth, wrote on July 15:
“At the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, crowds gathered to throw shoes and eggs at the Palestinian Authority’s health minister, who represents the crumbling ‘unity government’ in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.”
Last week, The Post also reported, and also included near the end of an article, how Hamas was hiding rockets inside of a mosque, also against international rules of war. On Friday, buried toward’s the end of The Post’s dispatch from the front, one of its correspondents reported actually seeing rockets being moved into the mosque during Thursday’s five-hour humanitarian ceasefire:
“During the lull, a group of men at a mosque in northern Gaza said they had returned to clean up the green glass from windows shattered in the previous day’s bombardment. But they could be seen moving small rockets into the mosque.”
According to international rules of military engagement, civilian public and religious buildings cannot to be used to shield weapons, but that has been a long-held Hamas tactic in Gaza.
On Thursday, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said it discovered 20 rockets hidden in a vacant school it operated in Gaza.
UNRWA said the rockets were discovered during a “regular inspection” and that it immediately “informed the relevant parties and successfully took all necessary measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school.”
The UNRWA came under criticism on social media for handing the rockets back to the “relevant parties,” who readers interpreted as being the Hamas militants who hid the arms in the school.
Evening Edition: ‘Very high possibility’ of Gaza invasion, Israeli official says and other headlines for this evening, Wed, Jul 16, 2014.
By Sudarsan Raghavan,, William Booth and Ruth Eglash July 16 at 6:56 PM – for The Washington Post.
JERUSALEM — On a day rattled by a fury of air attacks, Israel and Hamas found themselves Wednesday searching for a way forward, with a senior Israeli military official declaring that a ground invasion of Gaza was a “very high possibility.”
Israel announced that it will observe a unilateral “humanitarian truce” for five hours Thursday to allow Gaza residents to stock up on food and other supplies and let aid reach civilians. The pause in fighting was requested by the United Nations, said another military official, army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
It was unclear whether Hamas would also hold its fire. The militant group rejected an earlier cease-fire proposed by Egypt, and a top Hamas leader declared that the Islamist militant group is alone in the world as it battles Israel.
Hamas continued to shower rockets Wednesday into southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv, underscoring the extent to which the militants believe they still have the military capability to persuade Israel to accept their terms, analysts said.
“From their rationale, they are holding strong, as if they have nothing to lose,” said Miri Eisen, a former Israeli army intelligence official. She added, “If they feel they have nothing to lose, they can continue this for a long time.”
That attitude is increasing pressure on Israel. Hundreds of Israeli airstrikes have killed hundreds of Palestinians but have done little to stop Hamas rockets from striking Israeli towns. Human rights activists are accusing Israel of killing innocent civilians and possibly committing war crimes. Egypt, once a reliable ally, no longer seems to have the negotiating clout it once had.
All this is generating discussions — within Israeli political and military circles and on television, radio and editorial pages — of a possible ground invasion of Gaza in the coming days. In Tel Aviv, a high-ranking Israeli military official told reporters Wednesday that there was “a very high possibility” of such an operation, adding, “If you want to efficiently fight terrorism, you need to have boots on the ground.”
More than 113 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Wednesday, according to the Israeli military.
By Wednesday night, 222 people had been killed in Gaza during the nine-day operation, including 49 minors and 24 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,600 people have been wounded in Gaza, the officials said.
Among the latest casualties were four Palestinian children, all younger than 12, who were killed by an Israeli missile or shell while playing on a beach in Gaza near a hotel used by foreign journalists, according to witnesses and Palestinian officials. The four boys were cousins. Seven others — adults and children — were reported wounded in the strike.
The Israeli army, calling the incident tragic, said the target had been a Hamas operative.
President Obama addressed the situation in brief White House remarks. Although he did not specifically mention the beach deaths, he said, “We are all heartbroken by the violence .?.?. especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza.” Obama said the United States would continue to “use all our diplomatic resources and relationships” to bring about a lasting cease-fire. “In the meantime,” he said, “we are going to support efforts to protect civilians in Israel and Gaza.”
Message to the Congregation: Israel
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch
July 16, 2014
I hope that you have been able to slow down a bit during the summer, and are finding some time for rest and relaxation.
As you know, it has been a tense and trying summer for Israelis. Many of us have family and friends in Israel, as well as children who are on summer programs. We continue to pray for their safety and well being.
I would like to emphasize the following basic values:
Israel is on the front lines of the Western war against Islamic extremism that considers Israel to be an illegitimate presence in the Middle East. Israel deserves the political and moral support of all Western nations and freedom-loving people.
Israeli military operations are defensive in nature. No country would – or should – allow missiles to be fired on its cities and towns. The indiscriminate firing on Israeli civilians is a war crime. Every single missile fired from Gaza constitutes a war crime. The Hamas use of Palestinian civilian human shields is a war crime.
We have noted the extraordinary care employed by the Israel Defense Forces in avoiding civilian casualties. There is no other military in the world that takes such extensive precautions. At the same time we lament the suffering of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire, and grieve for the loss of innocent Palestinian lives. They deserve better than Hamas. Hamas bears the primary political and moral responsibility for their senseless suffering.
We condemn the savage kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
We condemn the savage kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teenager in revenge. We are appalled that Jews could carry out such acts of terror.
The discussion on the disproportionate numbers of Palestinian casualties relative to Israeli casualties is a moral outrage. Israel has invested billions of dollars in defensive capabilities – shelters, warning systems, civilian preparation and anti-missile technology (partially funded by US citizens). Israel does everything it can to prevent Palestinian civilian harm, including calling off bombing missions in mid flight if pilots perceive excessive risk to civilians nearby. The moral question is not whether casualties on one side are greater than the other. Rather, the question is whether the military action is proportional to the threat. Hamas rockets threaten most of Israel; they have reached as far as Haifa in the north. Millions of Israelis live under constant threat of missile attacks. In fact, many in Israel and its supporters worldwide consider the current Israeli measures not strong enough proportional to the threat.
Traditionally, American Jews have helped Israel in times of crisis by donating funds and joining a solidarity mission to Israel. We encourage you to do both.
Accordingly, we have established an Israel Emergency Fund at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. If you would like to make a contribution, please send your check made out to Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, clearly marked for Israel Emergency Fund. You can also donate online with a credit card here www.swfs.org/donate/.
Representatives of the synagogue board of trustees and Israel committee will decide upon the distribution of the funds. All of the money will be forwarded to worthy causes; none of the funds will be retained by the synagogue.
Also: SWFS has arranged a mission to Israel from October 17-22, 2014. Journalist Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, a New York Times bestseller, will accompany us throughout our five days in Israel for a unique opportunity to engage Israeli and Palestinian leaders who shape events in the Middle East I urge you to consider joining. For mission information, contact Donna Levine or call 212-877-4050 x223.
If you would like additional talking points and links to media outlets, please email our Israel committee, chaired by Alan Scheiner, at SWFS Israel and ask to be added to the mailing list so that you will receive regular updates.
With continuing prayers for the peace of Jerusalem,
Youth training at the Al-Futuwa program, where Hamas trains children to hate Israel. Photo: Paldf.net.
Nothing plays better in the mainstream media these days than wailing Gazans, mourning their dead from Israeli missile strikes responding to the unprovoked deluge of Hamas rockets on the Jewish state. As Ben Wedeman (CNN) recently reported from Jabalia, “There is no Iron Dome in Gaza to protect civilians.” But Gaza civilians most need protection from Hamas. Its leaders intentionally jeopardize their lives by embedding rocket-launching and ammunition storage sites in schools, mosques and hospitals located in civilian neighborhoods.
In Gaza, recruits for martyrdom in the holy war against Israel are urged to gather on rooftops. They are instructed by their demented leaders to serve as a human shield against Israeli retribution for thousands of rockets that have been fired into the Jewish state during the past week. The designated locations for martyrdom are not random. Beneath the rooftops are Hamas command centers and tunnels, where leaders take refuge and weapons are stored.
According to Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri: “This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood.” He proudly cited the exemplary “martyr” Nizar Riyan, the senior Hamas leader during the 2009 Gaza war. Receiving a warning phone call from the IDF to evacuate his house, he chose to remain in place, thereby consigning his four wives, ten children and himself to martyrdom from the Israeli air strike that he knew was imminent.
Last Sunday, following rocket attacks on the Tel Aviv area, the IDF dropped leaflets in northern Gaza urging residents to evacuate their homes in advance of a retaliatory military strike to destroy embedded rocket launchers. After 4000 residents heeded the Israeli warning the Hamas Interior Ministry urged them to disregard “random messages to instill panic” and return “immediately” to their homes, the better to become human shields and gain world attention.
As Jeffrey Goldberg observed (Bloomberg, July 11), “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible.” Why not? Dead Palestinians “represent a crucial propaganda victory” for an inhumane regime that has abjectly failed to provide its own people with even the most minimal amenities of civilized life: safety, food, employment, education, medical care. (It is an irony seldom noted that Gazans are still admitted for treatment in Israeli hospitals.) But Hamas leaders do not hesitate to protect themselves. They take refuge in a vast web of underground tunnels and shelters reserved for their exclusive use. Gaza civilians are expendable. Urged to become targets, their dead bodies are garishly paraded in public to stoke the Hamas cause.
As rockets fall on Israel the world grants Hamas immunity for its war crimes. Blaming the Jewish targets of Palestinian terrorism has long been a popular international trope. As the commissioner general of UNRWA, which invents Palestinian “refugees” by the millions to stay in business, recently declared: “I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians . . . which are contrary to international humanitarian law.” About Hamas rockets targeting Israeli civilians he had nothing to say.
Palestinian suffering inflicted by cruel Israelis is the preferred worldwide narrative. Where better than Frankfurt, as a recent protest demonstrated, for Israel to be equated with Nazi Germany? With the cease-fire proposed by Egypt evidently crumbling, and Israeli retaliation for Hamas attacks resuming, the number of Palestinian martyrs is likely to increase. Nothing could make Hamas happier. Indeed, today’s death of four soccer-playing Palestinian boys in Gaza, struck by an Israeli missile, is certain to ratchet up rampage against Israeli retaliation for the unrelenting Hamas rocket attack.
Nobody summed up the situation more succinctly, and accurately, than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who told Fox News: “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using civilians to protect their missiles.”
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy (Quid Pro Books).
Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN. Photo: UN Multimedia.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor called for the “immediate” suspension of a UN spokesperson on Tuesday.
The move came as Israel is in the midst of a full-flung campaign against terror group Hamas to end rocket fire from nearby Gaza.
Prosor asked for action to be taken against Chris Gunness of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, after the spokesman encouraged reporters to interview a professor with a history of supporting terror attacks against civilians.
In a letter to Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Prosor said, “Gunness, yet again abused his position by calling on reporters to interview Dr. Mads Gilbert, an outspoken proponent of terrorist attacks against civilians. In September 2001, Dr. Gilbert explicitly supported the ‘moral right’ of Al-Qaeda to perpetrate the 9/11 terrorist attacks against thousands of American civilians.”
In the letter, seen by The Algemeiner, Prosor included the text of a recent Twitter post from Gunness encouraging reporters to speak to Gilbert: “Great interviewee @ Shifa Hosp Gaza right now Prof Mads Gilbert +4790878740 call him 4 fatality & cas figs and atoms RT.” The message has since been deleted.
“Rather than denouncing Hamas’s targeting of innocent civilians, Mr. Gunness is shamelessly promoting an individual who shares Hamas’s morally reprehensible convictions,” Prosor said in his letter. “Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, deliberately embeds its military operations in residential areas and exploits its own civilian population as human shields. These actions constitute war crimes and should be condemned in no uncertain terms. In failing to do so, Mr. Gunness is ignoring Hamas’s abuse of the civilian population in Gaza and acting in opposition to UNRWA’s mandate.”
Prosor also accused Gunness of displaying “an ongoing pattern of anti-Israel bias,” adding, “he has abused his position to promote incitement against Israel and present a one-sided view of reality.”
Prosor said that on Monday, after Hamas fired a rocket at an electrical plant in Ashkelon cutting off power to 70,000 Gazans, “Mr. Gunness tweeted that the lights had gone out, conveniently omitting Hamas’s responsibility.”
“Israel supports UNRWA’s important humanitarian work; however, actions that encourage incitement undermine this work. UNRWA staff members have repeatedly failed to abide by the UN’s principles of neutrality and impartiality,” Prosor said.
“I ask that you immediately suspend Mr. Gunness while you investigate the matter. The integrity and impartiality of the UN demands that this matter be addressed expediently.”
VATICAN CITY — In a richly symbolic ceremony, Pope Francis oversaw a carefully orchestrated “prayer summit” with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents on Sunday as Jews, Christians and Muslims offered invocations for peace in the Vatican gardens.
“It is my hope that this meeting will mark the beginning of a new journey where we seek the things that unite, so as to overcome the things that divide,” Francis said at the ceremony.
During his trip last month to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, Francis unexpectedly extended invitations for a summit at the Vatican to President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
He said the meeting would be about prayer, not politics, and Vatican officials sought to dispel any expectation that a breakthrough would emerge.
Many Mideast analysts, while applauding the gesture, have been skeptical that the meeting would help revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but it did, at least, bring together the two presidents, who held a private meeting after the ceremony with Francis.
During the ceremony, Mr. Peres and Mr. Abbas avoided the familiar political tropes. There was no mention of 1967 borders or security arrangements. Mr. Abbas did not use the word “occupation,” according to an English translation of his prepared text distributed by the Vatican. (Nor did he say the word “Israel,” though he did refer once to Israelis.)
Yet there were some subtle provocations. Mr. Abbas called Jerusalem, considered by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital, “our Holy City” and referred to “the Holy Land Palestine.” (Mr. Peres described Jerusalem both as “the vibrant heart of the Jewish people” and as “the cradle of the three monotheistic religions.”)
Mr. Abbas also prayed for a “sovereign and independent state” and said Palestinians were “craving for a just peace, dignified living and liberty,” implying that they were denied these things under Israel’s occupation.
Mr. Peres did not mention rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but he evoked the attacks with the biblical quotation, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
The ceremony was held in a garden behind St. Peter’s Basilica that is enclosed by a high hedge to provide a sense of intimacy, and that offers a spectacular view of the cupola of the basilica. It also was chosen as a place that seemed somewhat neutral in terms of religious iconography. The service was carefully organized into three successive “moments,” in which prayers and readings were offered by Jews, then Christians and then Muslims. Then the three leaders spoke.
In the moments before the ceremony, the three men rode together in a small bus to the garden, along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Orthodox Christian leader. At times, they appeared to share a laugh.
The prayer summit came at a fraught political moment. Less than a week ago, a new Palestinian government was sworn in that is based on a pact with Hamas, the militant Islamic movement branded as terrorist by most of the West. Israel has officially shunned the new cabinet and has sought unsuccessfully to galvanize the world against it. Israel’s cabinet did give Mr. Peres the pro forma approval to travel to the Vatican, but some in Israel worried about the timing of this new embrace of Mr. Abbas.
In contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Peres has long maintained that Mr. Abbas is a suitable partner for peacemaking. In a recent television interview, Mr. Peres said that in 2011, Mr. Netanyahu cut off back-channel talks between the two presidents that had come close to a deal, something the prime minister’s office has denied. But even as Mr. Peres was arriving for the Vatican event, Mr. Netanyahu continued his criticism of the new Palestinian government during a cabinet meeting on Sunday in Jerusalem.
“Whoever hoped that the Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas would moderate Hamas is mistaken,” he said, calling for international pressure on Mr. Abbas to dissolve the new partnership.
In the hours before the prayer summit, the usual crowd of tourists milled about St. Peter’s Square, including some people who hoped the meeting could make a difference.
“His gesture can help solve the situation,” said Esteban Troncosa, 16, of Santa Fe, Argentina, who was in Rome for a one-month language study trip with his class. “His message has always been to stop wars, and avoid any form of violence. I am sure this can make a difference. The pope can’t sign political agreements, but he is a symbol and can make people and politicians think.”
Fatah And Hamas Reconciliation: Rushing To Judgment.
Alon Ben-Meir – May 1, 2014
Characterizing the Fatah-Hamas unity, or rather reconciliation, agreement as helpful or harmful to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is premature at best. Determining the viability or the lack thereof in such an agreement must first be examined in the context of Hamas’ changing state of affairs and the status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The fact that two similar agreements failed to materialize in the past does not suggest that this one will necessarily meet the same fate. My understanding is that both Fatah and Hamas have concluded that unlike past agreements, the new accord is essential to adjust to the changing dynamics in the region and their bilateral relations.
Hamas was motivated by a number of factors, including the extremely difficult task of meeting Palestinian needs in Gaza, who are despairing with unemployment reaching nearly 40 percent, substandard medical services and education, and a new generation living the daily indignities with little prospects for a better future.
Hamas has been cut off from Egypt as the new military-controlled government destroyed most tunnels, preventing the smuggling of goods to Gaza, which have in the past provided a financial lifeline to the Hamas government.
The turmoil in Syria and Hamas’ decision to support the rebels deprived it of the political and logistic support that had been provided by the Assad regime. Moreover, because of the sanctions imposed on Iran, Tehran has substantially reduced its financial aid and military supplies on which Hamas relied heavily in the past.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza, though somewhat eased during the past two years, still prevents the free flow of goods, especially building materials, not to mention the extraordinary travel restrictions and the near-isolation of the Palestinians from the rest of the world.
Finally, Hamas’ inability to challenge Israel militarily now and in the future has finally sunk in, leaving it to conclude that the only viable option left is joining Fatah in a bid to ease the financial pressure, enjoy, over time, greater political acceptance by the international community, and become an integral part of the peace process.
For the PA, the agreement with Hamas is accepting the inevitable: no peace agreement with Israel can be reached, fully implemented and endure without the support of Hamas. For Abbas, since the peace negotiations have thus far made hardly any progress, he concluded that he stands to risk little by reaching out to Hamas, consolidating his role as the leader of all Palestinians while gaining wide Palestinian political support.
With Hamas, the PA will be in a position to present a united front, prevent Israel from continuing its policy of “divide and conquer,” deny Israel’s claim that there is no partner with whom to negotiate, strengthen its mandate to govern, and gain, over time, enhanced international support.
Finally, given Hamas’ diminishing popularity, Fatah is more than likely to emerge as the winner in the elections, scheduled to take place within a few months. For Hamas, other than easing the financial pressure, joining the Arab fold appears to trump its policy of violent resistance towards Israel.
Abbas’ assessment of the Israeli reaction was on target. Notwithstanding Netanyahu’s decision to suspend the negotiations, which are already moribund, and his threats to squeeze the PA financially, Netanyahu wants to prevent the collapse of the PA. He is terrified of being forced to assume the financial and security burden of over 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.
Although the US expressed disappointment with Abbas’ surprise decision to reconcile with Hamas, the Obama administration will, too, find it extremely difficult to punish the PA as such punishment, including withholding financial assistance, will not only scuttle what is left of the peace process but damage its ability to influence the PA in the future.
Netanyahu’s insistence that Abbas must chose to make peace with either Israel or with Hamas is disingenuous at best. For Netanyahu, the reconciliation agreement is heaven-sent; it gave him a timely opportunity to end the negotiations over a two-state solution to which he has never subscribed, while conveniently blaming the PA.
Netanyahu and most of his coalition partners do not want to even entertain the idea that Hamas can moderate its position, and refuse to consider that time and circumstances have brought this about. Israel itself precipitated much of this change, but is now refusing to accept the results of its own policies.
Indeed, regardless of Hamas’ current political posture toward Israel, its leaders know full well that they cannot now or at any time in the future pose an existential threat to Israel. They cannot stay outside the main political currents, which potentially bear significant developments in months and years to come, and they know that there is no other viable alternative if they choose to remain relevant.
Yes, Hamas was rightfully designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and the EU, but so was the PLO less than two decades ago. The changing political conditions and the reality on the ground forced the PLO to change its stance toward Israel, which eventually led to canceling the articles in the PLO charter that denied Israel’s right to exist on April 24, 1996.
In fact, Hamas’ position and its precondition to establish peace with Israel is not much different than the current PA stand. Hamas’ political guru Khaled Meshal told CNN in November 2012 what he has stated twice before: “I accept a Palestinian state according [to] the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”
Moreover, even though Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization and has blockaded Gaza for the past nine years, it has been dealing and negotiating directly and indirectly with Hamas on many fronts including prisoner exchanges, trade in both directions, and the exchange of some information to prevent accidental flare-ups.
Instead of rejecting outright the reconciliation agreement, both Israel and the US should encourage Hamas to take additional steps to demonstrate its intentions and ask friends of Hamas, such as Turkey, to persuade Hamas to change its public posture toward Israel.
In this regard, Hamas may well be persuaded to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which offers Israel a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace based almost exactly on the same provisions that both the PA and Hamas are demanding.
This would allow Hamas to return to the Arab states’ fold without losing face and allow the US and the EU to remove Hamas from their terrorism lists.
It should be noted that the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PA requires Hamas to refrain from calling for Israel’s destruction, not to provoke Israel, and prevent other Palestinian extremists from provoking Israel, which Hamas has, in any case, been doing for the past three years.
To be sure, the idea behind the unity agreement is for Hamas to become an integral part of the Palestinian body politic, and permanently abandon violent resistance to the Israeli occupation in favor of peaceful political resistance.
The latest unity agreement at this particular juncture will more than likely survive and offers new opportunities for the US and Israel to build on it rather than dismiss it. Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza are a fact of life and for the US and Israel to choose to be oblivious to their existence is not only shortsighted but dangerously misguided.
Indeed, neither the US nor Israel could wish Hamas away. Both will have to deal with Hamas as long as it moderates its ways and challenges Israel to make peace rather than challenging its right to exist.
and Times of Israel writes:
In stepping down from government, Hamas plans bid for greater power.
Haniyeh is betting his willingness to resign as Gaza’s PM will
boost the popularity of his battered Islamists, raising their
(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri announced on Sunday afternoon that the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and his government are prepared to resign as soon as a new Palestinian unity government is established.
Many in Israel and the Palestinian territories reacted to the declaration with skepticism in light of ill-fated previous reconciliation agreements between Hamas and Fatah.
Then, too, Hamas had made similar declarations, only to stop just short of vacating the government buildings.
But perhaps this time, after serving as prime minister for eight years, Haniyeh, and with him Hamas,
are ready to give up the comforts of government for the sake of Palestinian unity in the short term…
and ruling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the long run.
In the last few days, Hamas’s motives — in what superficially appears to be a capitulation to Fatah’s demands in reconciliation talks — have become clearer. For Israel, these motives are perhaps an even greater cause for concern than the reconciliation itself.
This latest Fatah-Hamas, it would appear, is not a political or tactical maneuver by the Islamist organization. Rather, it is a sophisticated strategic move involving quite a large gamble, taken with an understanding of the new reality of the Middle East. The gamble shows that Hamas understands that it can no longer rule the Gaza Strip on its own, and so has decided to give up the comforts of government – even if temporarily – in order to win over Palestinian public opinion. Eventually, it could win the parliamentary, and possibly even the presidential, elections and gain overall Palestinian primacy.
Within Hamas, plenty of voices have been heard in recent weeks objecting to the reconciliation process. However, the harsh reality in Gaza, and especially the movement’s faltering relations with Egypt, have raised grave fears that if Hamas does not give in willingly now, it might collapse financially or be ousted by its public.
The organization’s main source of income in Gaza, the network of smuggling tunnels, has been blocked for nearly a year now. Each month, Haniyeh’s government struggles to pay the salaries of its 40,000 officials, in addition to the salaries of thousands of Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades who are paid with nongovernmental funds.
On the ground, the organization has found itself embroiled in a conflict with Israel that leaves it little room to maneuver: While Hamas itself doesn’t want an escalation, there are plenty of Gazan militias that do. Hamas thus has to act as a sort of “border police,” employing hundreds of policemen to prevent rocket attacks toward Israel. However, every time the attacks recur, Israeli security forces strike Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s reputation as a “resistance” movement, an organization dedicated to fighting Israel, has diminished in recent years, while the Islamic Jihad movement and radical Salafi organizations have been gaining popularity at its expense.
It would appear that Hamas has, for the most part, decided to follow in the footsteps of its Tunisian sister-party, en-Nahda. En-Nahda won the elections that took place after Tunisia’s 2011 Jasmine Revolution, which heralded the start of the Arab Spring. However, the party struggled to cope with the challenges it faced, as well as the growing protest movement in the country. Eventually, it agreed to the formation of a nonpartisan government headed by a nonpartisan technocrat until new elections could be held.
At the time, the leader of en-Nahda, Rashid al-Ghannushi, explained that sometimes even a majority party has to step down for the sake of democracy and the greater good.
For Hamas, there is much at stake. Yes, the Palestinian public will embrace and appreciate its decision to step down. But no one can promise Hamas that it will win the next elections. And yet, the prospect of staying in power in Gaza doesn’t seem much more attractive: The organization is losing support in Gaza with each passing day, and many analysts believe that if elections were to be held today, Hamas would lose in Gaza by a wider margin than in the West Bank.
The party hopes that by the time elections are scheduled to take place, in just over six months, it will have succeeded in restoring its reputation and regaining popular support. And even if elections do not take place, the public will have seen who took a gamble for unity, and who thwarted it. In the meantime, Hamas will sit on the sidelines and observe the tremendous challenges Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will have to cope with as the new prime minister as a unity government set to be established within the next five weeks.
Each month, Abbas will have to pay the salaries of those same Hamas officials, in addition to the 160,000 officials employed by the Palestinian Authority – a task which has become nigh impossible in light of the PA’s depleted coffers and Israel’s planned sanctions. If salaries are not paid on time, Hamas will direct all complaints to Abbas.
And what of Hamas’s militant wing? Will it cease to operate during this period between the establishment of the unity government and the scheduled elections six months later? Quite the contrary. Without the constraints of political participation, Izz al-Din al-Qassam will likely be freer to operate against both Israel and other movements. And should anyone – say, Israel – complain about that, Hamas will refer them to the new prime minister responsible for the West Bank and Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas’s publicity billboard that reads, ‘Jerusalem is Waiting for Men.’ Photo: Screenshot.
In a rather conspicuous propaganda stunt, Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza, foisted a new billboard showing the heads of its Islamist leadership, along with the leaders of Turkey and Qatar, with a caption that implies their help has been recruited to wrest Jerusalem from Israeli control.
The billboard shows Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, alongside previous and current Qatari leaders Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The billboard reads ”Jerusalem is Waiting for Men,” along with a photo of the Dome of the Rock.
The blogger wrote that the sign also implies two other messages.
First, the belittling of leaders of other Arab countries, especially Egypt, where Hamas gained under the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, and is now being shunned after that group, its political “big brother,” was expelled last year.
And, second, that Hamas, which played second fiddle to Islamic Jihad in last month’s shelling of Israel, is the stronger of the two groups and will be on the winning team to, one day, take Jerusalem.
Cairo International Airport, where sources spied Israeli and Egyptian security officials meeting to discuss cooperation to fight terrorists in the Sinai. Photo: Cairo International Airport.
An Egyptian entrepreneur said he resents his country’s hostility to Israel which prevents him from openly conducting any business with the Jewish state, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported late last week.
“It is very unfortunate that we cannot be pragmatic and say this particular country has good quality and inexpensive commodities and we are going to import from it because it is in our interest,” said the unnamed Egyptian, who still does business with Israel on the down low. “After all these years an Israeli commodity on, say, the shelf of a supermarket would not be picked up except by a few people — if we assume that any supermarket would at all dare to carry, say, Israeli fruit juice.”
Like most Egyptian businessmen who work with Israelis, he insisted on remaining anonymous for fear of being “stigmatized as dealing with the enemy,” he told Al-Ahram.
“I really don’t understand; we have a peace deal and we cannot do business, it has been 35 years since this peace treaty was signed and still it is a big issue if someone said let us do business with Israel or let us benefit of their agricultural expertise,” he said.
Trade between Israel and Egypt dropped after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, but government officials in Cairo say the fall was possibly a result of the subsequent political turmoil, according to the report.
Despite any current animosity Egypt may harbor toward Israel, an independent economic source told Al-Ahram that Egyptian authorities are considering all options in dealing with the country’s current severe energy shortages, not excluding the import of natural gas from Israel.
“Cooperation in natural gas has been very stable for many years despite the suspension and trade dispute that occurred after the 25 January Revolution removed Mubarak — but this is the case with trade cooperation in general, limited and stable,” said a government official.
US Congress has things to tell the Palestinians and Iran with acceptable diplomacy in mind.
House warns Palestinian aid may be cut.
US lawmakers are threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if President Mahmoud Abbas goes through with his stated intention to sign on to 15 UN treaties.
Summary? Print US lawmakers are signaling that the United States could withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority over PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ gambit with the United Nations.
While it’s not clear Abbas’ decision violates the letter of the law, appropriators have made it clear they think its spirit has been trampled on.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations & Related Programs, told Al-Monitor that aid should be revisited.
She said the goal of US assistance since the 1990s has been to help strike a peace deal, and that the UN move appears antithetical to that.
“What a lot of it was, we’re going to try to help as you try to negotiate at the peace table in good faith,” Granger said Wednesday after a hearing where she pressed President Obama’s UN envoy, Samantha Power, on the issue. “Well, I can’t see that that was good faith.”
Granger’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said she was “extremely disappointed” with Abbas’ decision.
“There was a decision made last year that investing in the PA and economic development would be the most productive step we could take to encourage peace,” Lowey told Al-Monitor. She said it’s not clear whether that’s still the case.
Current law contains several restrictions on the aid, including requirements that the PA battle anti-Israeli “incitement” and refrain from dragging Israel before the International Criminal Court or joining more UN agencies. The Obama administration has requested $440 million in aid, but the spending bill doesn’t set a figure.
“Congress is silent on the funding levels for the PA,” a House aide explained. “We require a spend plan for how the administration wants to direct assistance to the PA with the requirement that they have to provide Congressional notifications to the committees of jurisdiction. Once Congress is notified we have the ability to hold funds. We also have updated and strengthened the conditions on our assistance to the PA in the FY14 bill.”
Aid would be cut if “the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” the omnibus spending bill states.
Secretary of State John Kerry can waive the restrictions if he “certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that to do so is in the national security interest of the United States, and submits a report to such Committees detailing how the waiver and the continuation of assistance would assist in furthering Middle East peace.”
Power had harsh words for the PA at Wednesday’s hearing — but stopped short of announcing an aid freeze.
“The United States will stand with Israel, we will defend it, and we will challenge every instance of unfair treatment throughout the UN system,” Power said. “This solemn commitment also extends to a firm opposition to any and all unilateral actions in the international arena, including on Palestinian statehood, that circumvent or prejudge the outcome that can only come about through a negotiated settlement.”
The president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request includes $370 million in Economic Support Funds that the State Department says “creates an atmosphere that supports negotiations, encourages broad-based economic growth, promotes democratic governance, and improves the everyday lives of Palestinians, thereby creating an environment supportive of a peace agreement and contributing to the overall stability and security of the region.” It also sets aside $70 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement funding aimed at “reforming the Palestinian Authority (PA) security sector, and sustaining and maintaining the capabilities that the security forces have developed.”
Some outside observers believe Abbas was careful not to run afoul of the spending legislation when he announced his decision. While he is expected to sign on to the treaties when he appears before the UN General Assembly Friday, he will not be joining any agencies.
“Technically they’re not in violation” of the appropriations law, said Lara Friedman, the director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now. “That technicality may be irrelevant, because we have a new … bill coming up, and odds are Congress will just change that language.”
Cole Bockenfeld, the advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said Abbas probably has a good understanding of US law.
“My sense is he knows it very well or US government folks would be communicating that very clearly to him,” Bockenfeld said. “Even on previous steps it seems calculated very clearly exactly how far they’re willing to go.”
But Congress may react harshly after failing to stop further UN steps by the Palestinians that they see as being aimed at undermining Israel.
Lawmakers — including Granger and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East — blocked aid after Palestine joined UNESCO as a member state in 2011. The Obama administration released $500 million in previously appropriated funds last year after lawmakers lifted their objections.
“The language that they inserted [in the spending bill] was sort of to draw a line in the sand about not going any further in the UN after what happened in UNESCO,” Bockenfeld said. “It’s designed to stop any further moves, so now that [Abbas] is making further moves, whether it crosses that line or not — how the Congress will interpret that, how the administration will interpret that, there’s a good chance those two will be different interpretations altogether.”
The Palestinians argue that their UN application has nothing to do with the peace process — or with Congress.
Maen Areikat, their ambassador to Washington, said the PA agreed to put its UN applications on hold in exchange for Israel releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners, some of them accused of deadly attacks against Israelis, as called for under Kerry’s peace talks framework. When Israel reneged on releasing the last batch of 26 prisoners over the weekend, he said, the PA was relieved of its obligation — even as it continues to participate in the peace talks.
“It was a natural reaction for us when the Israelis did not honor their commitment,” Areikat told Al-Monitor. “I don’t understand why the United States — and the US Congress — would interpret that as a step by the Palestinians to undercut or undermine US efforts. From the beginning we’ve said that we are not seeking any confrontation with the United States, nor with the Congress.”
Areikat went on to say that cutting aid would only hurt common Palestinians.
“We very much appreciate the support that the United States is providing toward the Palestinian people,” he said. “But Congress cannot expect us to keep our part of the deal when the Israelis are reneging on their part.”
“What they need to do is understand exactly the nature of this Palestinian step and not try to overreact and take it to a different level that would, in the end, undermine US interests,” Areikat said. “To go back punishing the Palestinians, I don’t think will be productive and I hope it does not happen.”
Read more: backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2014/04/8056/us-would-find-rumored-un-envoy-pick-extremely-troubling/#ixzz2xqx4seiEThe State Department said Wednesday that it has notified Iran that it would have “serious concerns” about the choice of Hamid Aboutalebi to be Iran’s next UN envoy. “We think this nomination would be extremely troubling,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told journalists at the State Department press briefing Wednesday, Reuters reported.“We are taking a close look at the case now and we have raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran,” Harf said.Aboutalebi, a career Iranian diplomat close to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, told Iranian media in interviews last month that he had been summoned on occasion to serve as a translator during the 1979 US Iran hostage crisis, but had otherwise not been involved.But Aboutalebi’s even remote, alleged association with the embassy seizure and hostage crisis that traumatized Americans and ruptured US Iranian diplomatic ties over three decades ago has set off a flurry of denunciations from some former US hostages and members of Congress, and some US Iran watchers say Iran should pick someone else for the important, New York-based ambassadorial post.Iranian officials suggested this week that the nomination of Aboutalebi for the UN post was not yet official, and that it would only formally nominate someone for diplomatic posts who could receive the necessary approval from the hosting government.
“Iran’s policy is to formally appoint ambassadors – to all posts – once all the formalities are completed,” an Iranian official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday, in response to a query on Aboutalebi’s status.
Mr. Hamid Babaei, Iran’s spokesman at the UN mission in New York, repeated a variation of that line when contacted by Al-Monitor Wednesday to ask about the State Department’s comments on Aboutalebi. He said it was up to one’s own interpretation if that means Iran will nominate someone else if US approval is not forthcoming for Dr. Aboutalebi.
Aboutalebi visited the United States as a member of Iran’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in the mid-1990s, but was never previously full-time posted to the US, the Iranian official said. His alleged, peripheral connection to the 1979 crisis apparently did not come up when vetted for a visa for the short visit back then, former US officials surmised.
Aboutalebi, a former Iranian envoy to Italy, Belgium and Australia who currently works as an advisor in Rouhani’s presidential office, “is more reformist and more skeptical and critical of the [Iranian] system than” many others, one Iranian analyst, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Tuesday.
“But to be frank, it doesn’t matter,” the Iranian analyst added. “Once [the controversy] hit the media, I think the Iranians should have withdrawn him much earlier.”
The State Department comments Wednesday “and the movements in the [Congress] yesterday seemed to finally press Iranians to leak that he was not officially nominated and hopefully end the whole saga,” an Iranian scholar told Al-Monitor Wednesday.
Palestinian students visit Auschwitz in first organized visit.
Visit is part of program that aims to teach Israeli and Palestinian students about the other side’s suffering in effort to study how empathy could facilitate reconciliation.
By Matthew Kalman | Mar. 28, 2014
A group of 30 Palestinian students arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Thursday (yesterday), in what is believed to be the first organized visit by Palestinian students to a Nazi death camp.
The students are spending several days in Kraków and O?wi?cim guided by two Jewish Holocaust survivors.
A news blackout on the trip was requested by the organizers. The presence of the Palestinian group at Auschwitz-Birkenau is being reported here for the first time.
The students from Al-Quds University and Birzeit University, near Ramallah, are participating in a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The program’s aim is for Israeli and Palestinian students to learn about the suffering that has helped shape the historical consciousness of the other side.
Last week, a group of Israeli students visited the Dheisheh refugee camp, located south of Bethlehem, to learn about the Palestinian experience of suffering during the founding of Israel in 1948 – known to Palestinians as the Nakba (“the catastrophe”).
The reactions of each group will be studied by a group of PhD psychology students to see whether exposure to the conflicting historical narrative helps the students to understand their enemy, and facilitates efforts toward reconciliation and coexistence.
The Palestinian side of the program is directed by Mohammed S. Dajani, professor of American Studies at Al-Quds. Because of the Palestinian freeze on joint projects with Israeli universities, the Palestinian students are participating under the banner of Prof. Dajani’s Wasatia movement of moderate Islam.
Israeli groups regularly visit refugee camps in the West Bank searching for cross-border understanding, but the Palestinian visit to Auschwitz is unprecedented. It grew out of a visit by Prof. Dajani as part of a large Jewish-Muslim-Christian delegation in 2011, after which he coauthored a New York Times op-ed entitled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”
Since then, Prof. Dajani has written what he believes to be the first objective introduction to the Holocaust for Palestinian students in Arabic, which he hopes will become a textbook used in Palestinian schools and universities.
“Basically, we want to study how empathy with the Other could help in the process of reconciliation,” Prof. Dajani says. “I feel I would like Palestinians to explore the unexplored, and to meet these challenges where you might find that within their community there will be a lot of pressure on them not to do it or questioning why they are doing it, or that this is propaganda. I feel that’s nonsense.”
Prof. Dajani says more than 70 students applied for the 30 places on the Poland trip, but five later dropped out because of peer pressure. He says the choice of Dheisheh for the Israeli students was not meant to suggest there was an equivalence or even a direct link between the Holocaust and the Nakba. They were chosen as the symbolic events that have deeply affected the psyche on both sides of the conflict.
“We are seeking knowledge,” he says. “We are seeking to know what has happened; why did it happen; how can it be prevented from happening again? I believe it is very important to break this wall of bigotry, ignorance and racism that has separated us from crossing over to this new realm.”
“One of my students asked me why we should learn about the Holocaust when the Israelis want to ban even the use of the word ‘Nakba,’” he adds. “My response was: ‘Because in doing so, you will be doing the right thing. If they are not doing the right thing, that’s their problem.’”
Prof. Dajani, who was banned from Israel for 25 years for his activities for Fatah in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, says the student program is a practical expression of his belief that Israelis and Palestinians can settle their differences through compromise, moderation and human contact. He says his own visit to the Nazi death camp had a profound effect that he wishes to share with his students.
“I was also raised in the culture of denial, so for me, to go and see and look and be on the ground – it was a very sad experience for me. It had a lot of impact,” he admits. “I was shocked about the inhumanity of man to man. How can this happen? Why did it happen? Why would man be this cruel?
“It was shocking for me, because it showed me the deep, deep, dark side of human evil,” he adds.
Prof. Dajani has a track record of espousing views that are unpopular with the Palestinian academic mainstream. He is one of the few Palestinian professors to openly oppose the call for Palestinians and others to boycott Israeli universities.
Hanna Siniora, a veteran campaigner for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, says Prof. Dajani’s initiative should be welcomed.
“It’s very important for people to see the viciousness of such acts,” he says. “It should touch them in their humanity, in their sense of understanding that human beings don’t do evil things like that. This has caused a major problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the psyche of the Israelis is so tormented by what happened to the Jewish people that they cannot trust anybody.
“This is an educational trip. It opens the eyes and minds,” he adds. “If there is an empty place, I’d like to come along,” he says.
Remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference.
John Kerry Secretary of State
Washington Convention Center
March 3, 2014
Norm, thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you all, 14,000 strong or more. (Applause.) Howard, Howard Friedman and Executive Director Howard Kohr, incoming president Bob Cohen, incoming chairman Michael Kassen, outgoing chairman Lee Rosenberg, and Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Dan Shapiro. I don’t know where our ambassadors are. Would they – somebody ought to applaud both of them here. (Applause.) There they are. Thanks for your own, Norman.
Let me tell you, it really is an enormous pleasure for me to be able to be here. It’s a privilege. And good to see so many friends, all 14,000 of you – a little frightening to see myself on about eight, nine, ten screens up here – (laughter). The last time I spoke to AIPAC, I joined your national summit in Napa Valley. I did it via satellite. And you were in the vineyards, I was overseas – a different kind of vineyard. So today, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal because I am here with you in person, and your wine selection is a lot more limited this time.
I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of speaking to AIPAC back in the 1990s, it was a great honor, and every time I come here, whether I get a chance to talk to a smaller group during the daytime sessions or otherwise, this is a remarkably inspiring gathering – people from every corner of the country coming together to demonstrate our deep support as Americans for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. (Applause.)
And it is no exaggeration. It’s not just words to say that every single one of you brings here such a special passion to a cause that you so fiercely believe in. And let me tell you something unequivocally: After almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I can tell you that is precisely why AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy, and I thank you for practicing it. (Applause.)
I want you to know that in my judgment, these democratic values are stamped in the DNA of both the United States and Israel. But we also share something much deeper than that. Like no other two countries on the planet, against the deepest odds, both America and Israel confidently, purposefully set out to be examples to the world. Think about it. From its earliest days, Israel has always said it’s not enough just to be one of many in a community of nations; Israel has strived since Isaiah’s time to serve as a light unto the nations. (Applause.) And that responsibility to be a light unto the nations sounds actually unbelievably similar to something that we as Americans know is part of who we are, too.
My grandfather ten times over – too hard to count in other terms – was a man by the name of John Winthrop. And he came to what was then the New World, and he came in search of freedom, freedom to worship as he wished. He was a minister. He and his congregants were outcasts, persecuted, heading into a rough and unforgiving land with no guarantee even of survival. And on his way here, he delivered a now fairly famous sermon at sea in which he called on his community to create a city upon a hill in their new home, America.
So whether you call it a city upon a hill or a light unto the nations, it actually means the same thing: being a model to the world. It means having a home that sets a standard, a standard of dignity and a standard of freedom. So the foundation of the friendship between the American people and the people of Israel was actually laid centuries before a single stone was set under the U.S. Capitol or under the Knesset. And looking around this room tonight, it is clear that our friendship has never been stronger. (Applause.)
And I’ll tell you why. Because today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side. (Applause.) I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama – and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact – there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security. The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled. And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so. That is what we’ve done. (Applause.)
Security. Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to. And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel: preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Applause.)
Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions. I know many people – there’s been a healthy debate about the approach. We welcome that. But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal: We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period. (Applause.) Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation. (Laughter.)
But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts. This is not a political policy. This is a real foreign policy. And we mean every word of what we say. You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line: No deal is better than a bad deal. (Applause.) And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal. We are committed to a deal that gets the job done. (Applause.)
Why? Because we get it, we understand it. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat. We understand it. We understand it in our gut. And we also know something else. This is not some favor that we do for Israel. This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel. (Applause.) A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world. It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries. There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story. (Applause.)
Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time. Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal. Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen. That’s a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous. Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.
So we say – President Obama and myself and others – we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment. And that’s what we are trying to do. And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible. And we need to give it the space to work. We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.
Now, I understand the skepticism. I’ve been around this city for 29-plus years as a senator, became chairman of the foreign relations committee, worked with most of the members of your board and with AIPAC and others around the country, and proud to tell you that during that time I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel. (Applause.)
And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead. But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution. Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets –We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify. Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world – it’s verify and verify. And that’s what we intend to do. (Applause.)
Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place. And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it. We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture. And yet we are able to negotiate. Our eyes, my friends, are wide open. This is not a process that is open-ended. This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel. That, I promise. (Applause.)
Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer. The first step agreement, the first step agreement – it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement – and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back. And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations. Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium. And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect. The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller. Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero. Zero. Zero. (Applause.) You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.
The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor. Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow. You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long. We’ve never had people in it. But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening. (Applause.)
None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners. But now, my friends, we have to finish the job. Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy. It’s results that count, final results. And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.
Now, right now we are carefully – and I mean carefully – negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly. The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.
You might be asking: If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal? Well, you have my word – and the President’s – that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?
Those are the tests. Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement. It’s that simple. And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement. (Applause.) Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions. It’s up to Iran. It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.
Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation. And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions. And let me assure you – I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here – I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances. (Applause.)
In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions. I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted. And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms: Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs. (Applause.)
Now, strong diplomacy is also essential to another threat to Israel’s security: ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and in doing so, preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel. (Applause.) I’ve had some folks ask me why I’m so committed to these negotiations and why I’m so convinced that peace is actually possible. And they ask, “Why does John Kerry go to Israel so often?” I think I heard Steny Hoyer say he’d been there 13 times, Eric Cantor who’s been there 12 times. I’ve been there more times than that just in the last nine months. (Laughter.) And I’ve been in the Middle East more times than even that in the last months because I don’t always wind up going to Israel.
But apart from the question, I’m surprised because people ask, because apart from my affection for Israel which dates back to my first visit back in 1986, and it just strikes me that it’s the wrong question to ask, why do I go. This isn’t about me. This is about the dreams of Israelis and the dignity of Palestinians. It’s about reconciling two peoples who want at long last to live normal secure lives in the land that they have fought over for so long. It’s about answering King David’s timeless call that we seek peace and pursue it. It’s about fulfilling the fervent prayer for peace that Jews around the world recite to welcome Shabbat. It’s about parents from Tsefat to Eilat who want to raise their families in a region that accepts the nation-state of the Jewish people is here to stay. (Applause.)
Now, it’s not news to any Israeli to hear me say that they live in a difficult neighborhood. Israelis know that better than anyone. No one needs to explain the importance of peace and security to a mother who has just sent her daughter to the army or a son who is waiting for his father to come home from another mission. No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than those who will inherit them for generations to come. And I have seen all of these realities in so many different ways in my travels in Israel, from the rocket casings in Sderot to the shelter in Kiryat Shmona that I visited years ago where children had to hide from Katyusha rockets. I’ve seen it.
My friends, I also believe that we are at a point in history that requires the United States as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power to do everything we can to help end this conflict once and for all. Now, that is why America – (applause) – that is why America helped bring the parties back to the table, where, let’s be honest, Israelis and Palestinians have difficult choices to make. And no one understands just how complex those choices are or how emotional they are better than the leaders who have to summon the courage in order to actually make them.
I have sat with Bibi Netanyahu for hours and hours and days and days. We have become good friends. (Applause.) I believe – in fact, he ought to be charging me rent. (Laughter.) I’ve seen up close and personally the grit and the guts of this man and his love of country. And I can tell you with absolute certainty and without question, Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated his courage and his commitment in pursuit of peace with security. (Applause.) He knows that it is the only way for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state; not a bi-national state. (Applause.)
As President Obama said publicly in the Oval Office today, and I quote him: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership and the desire of the Israeli people for peace.”
Thus far, I will tell you also that President Abbas, and I know there are many doubters here – I’ve heard the arguments for 30-plus years, 40 years – that there’s no partner for peace, that Abbas won’t be there, that – both sides, by the way, say the same thing about each other. That’s one of the difficulties we have to try get through here. A very small needle to try to thread in terms of the trust deficit. Thus far, President Abbas, I will tell you, has demonstrated he wants to be a partner for peace. He’s committed to trying to end the conflict in all of its claims, but he obviously has a point of view about what’s fair and how he can do that. Let’s be candid. I know that some of you doubt that. But as Israeli security officials will attest, President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence, and his own security forces have worked closely with Israel in order to prevent violence against Israeli citizens.
I’ve also spent many hours with President Abbas, and I believe that he clearly understands both the tremendous benefits of peace and the great costs of failure. He understands that in terms of his own people, his own grandchildren, the country he hopes to be able to lead, and in terms of the history that beleaguers all. He knows the Palestinian people will never experience the self determination that they seek in a state of their own without ending the conflict in a solution that delivers two states for two peoples. (Applause.)
And so does Prime Minister Netanyahu. When Bibi looks me in the eye and says, “I can’t accept a deal with Palestinians that doesn’t make the people of Israel safer,” we agree 100 percent. (Applause.) But I argue that there is a distinction between a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon or from Gaza where nothing is resolved, and a phased withdrawal that is negotiated where everything is at least in an agreement resolved.
Now, I learned about Israel’s security on many different trips over there, but one stands out. I was – I’d been a pilot since I was in college and I was on a trip over there. I was having a luncheon at Ovda Airbase with the Israel Air Force. And the colonel who was in charge was – had flown. He was an ace from the Six-Day War. And we were having lunch at the time at Ovda and I had been badgering them to maybe let me go up and fly. And they disappeared at lunch and finally he comes back and he says, “Senator, I hope you don’t eat too much. We’re going flying.” I said, “Wow, great. This is what I’ve wanted.” And we went out, the two of us, drove out to this jet, and he trusted me. We put on our helmets, got in the jet, and he says, “The moment we’re off the ground, it’s your airplane.”
So literally, we took off, I take the stick, we go up, we’re flying around. Next thing I know in my ear he says, “Senator, you better turn faster. You’re going over Egypt.” (Laughter.) So I turned very fast and then I asked him if I could do some aerobatics over the Negev. And I turned upside down and did a big loop and I was coming down, I was looking upside-down, and I said to myself, “This is perfect.” I could see all of the Sinai. I could see Aqaba. I could see Jordan. I see all of Israel below me, each side to each side. Said, “This is the perfect way to see the Middle East upside-down and backwards.” I understand it. (Applause.)
The real point of this story is just to tell you that I can’t tell you the imprint on me, being up there and tiny – almost turning. You had barely space to turn. You get the sense of a missile from here, or a rocket from there, or the threat of war. You understand it’s impossible to ignore just how narrow those borders are, how vulnerable Israel can be, and why Israel’s security is our first priority. We understand that. (Applause.)
That is why, my friends, President Obama sent a four-star general, John Allen, one of the most respected minds in United States military to do something we’ve never done in all the history of administrations negotiating for Israel’s and Palestinians’ future and that is to work with Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians to make the Jordan River border as strong as the strongest borders on Earth. That’s what makes this effort different from anything we’ve ever done before. With the combination of the best military experience America can offer and the best ideas in the Pentagon and the best technology that we could deliver, we believe we can deliver to Israel security that Israel needs in order to make peace, and President Obama is committed to doing that.
Now we have no illusions. We saw what happened after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and Lebanon. We all learned lessons from that, I hope. That’s why a negotiated agreement is so important. That’s why the security arrangements that we are helping to design will need to be operationally proven. We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer. We will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza. (Applause.)
My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace. But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger. Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland. (Applause.) As Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles – to remain both Jewish and democratic. At last year’s AIPAC conference, he said statehood is not a favor for the Palestinians, and let me reaffirm: He is right; it is not.
Israel also needs peace in order to create greater prosperity. All of you here know the great economic benefits of peace. All of you have already seen what Israel has already been able to build with the forces of the region that raid against it. Just imagine what it will be able to build as a result of peace with Palestinian neighbors. I’ve had the foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries – a very wealthy country and a very smart foreign minister say to me if we make peace – this is under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Arab Follow-on Committee that is following everything we’re doing very closely and supporting it – and they said if we make peace, Israel will trade more in this community within a few years than it trades with Europe today. That’s what we have available to us. (Applause.) And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary unwarranted boycotts of Israel. For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel – (applause) – and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel. That will never change. (Applause.)
Every time that Israel is subjected to attacks on its legitimacy, whether at the United Nations or from any nation, the United States will use every tool we have to defeat those efforts and we will stand with Israel. (Applause.)
Finally, peace demands that Israel fulfill its destiny not just as a nation but also as a neighbor. And that begins with the Palestinians, and it extends to the entire Arab League whose Arab Peace Initiative can open the door to peace and normalized relations with 20 additional Arab countries and a total of 55 Muslim countries. The upheaval in the Middle East has shown us all that Arabs and Israelis share some of the very same security concerns. Without the Palestinian conflict to divide them, these common interests can grow into real relationships and transform Israel’s standing in the region. And I just invite you – I promise you these conversations take place. I’ve had them throughout the Gulf region, throughout the Middle East, where increasingly those countries begin to see the possibilities of mutual security interests coming together for all of them against an Iran, against terrorism, against religious extremism. This is a commonality that is a new thread in the region, and I believe it brings the potential of new possibilities.
It is also important to remember that ending the conflict means ending the incitement. President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed. And he has sought our help in order to try to deal with the problem. And I can tell you that with any final agreement it will also include a larger endeavor in order to help people on both sides move beyond a painful past and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.
After all these years, my friends, it is really no mystery what the end-game really looks like. I think you know that in your hearts. We understand what the end-game is. I know what peace looks like. When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, I think everybody shares this because this is not new. After Camp David and Oslo and Wye and Annapolis and Taba and all of these efforts, what the end-game should look like is straightforward: security arrangements that leave Israelis more secure, not less; mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people; an end to the conflict and to all claims; a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugees, one that does not diminish the Jewish character of the state of Israel; and a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace. (Applause.)
It will take hard work. I’m not pretending any of the answers – these are all narrative issues. They’re tough issues. They complicated. But there is a vision of peace, and it takes tough choices on both sides, especially over the coming days. I guarantee you that America, that President Obama and this Administration will be there every day of the week, every step of the way. And we will stand with Israel’s leaders today and with the leaders of the future. And we will ensure that our light shines not just throughout the nations, but throughout the generations.
Leaders like a fellow named Guy – I’ll leave his last name out – but he’s a young Israeli who took part in an exchange program with the State Department, sponsors that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about their histories and their hopes. Guy’s grandparents fled Europe. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. He served in the IDF. And he worked as an entrepreneur in Israel’s booming tech industry. And this is what he said in that program: We respect our past, but we don’t want to live it. We are young enough to dream, to believe that change is possible, and that fear can be defeated.
I think Guy is right. Change is possible. Fear can be defeated. But those are choices we have to make now.
My friends, a few months ago I landed in Tel Aviv and it was the 18th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. I went straight to Kikar Rabin, and I stood with the late-prime minister’s daughter, Dalia, at the site of her father’s murder. And we stood just steps away from where the great general, in the last moments of his life, sang the famous lyrics of Shir LaShalom: Don’t whisper a prayer; sing a song of peace in a loud voice. Don’t say the day will come; bring that day. (Applause.) That is our mission. All of us, in whatever capacity that we can, but just as important our mission is also to raise our voices for peace, and we also need to listen. We have to listen to those who first gave voice to our values, voices that still echo thousands of years later.
He almost – I think it was the first time I went to Israel. I spent a week there and went all over the country and like many first-time visitors, I climbed Masada. I climbed it with a guide – some of you may know him or heard of him, a fellow by the name of Yadin Roman. Yadin, the publisher of EretzIsrael. And our group debated Josephus Flavius’s account of what happened on the top of that mountain, the account of what happened 2,000 years before we were there.
Then Yadin, after we’d had this long debate, made us all vote to determine did it happen as he recounted or was it different. And we all voted unanimously it did happen the way he recounted. He told us to then walk to the edge of the precipice which we did, and to look out across the chasm and to shout, to shout across the ancestral home of the Jewish people. And as we stood where every new Israeli soldier begins his or her service, by swearing an oath to honor that history and secure the future, Yadin instructed us to shout, all at the same time, “Am Yisrael chai.” We shouted. (Applause.) And then I have to tell you, echoing across the chasm in the most eerie and unbelievably unforgettable way were these haunting echoes of “Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael chai, chai, chai.” I’ll never forget hearing the echo of those words bouncing off that mountain. It was literally like we were hearing the voices of the souls of those who had perished sacrificing their lives for Israel a thousand years ago. And we were affirming those words, the state of Israel lives. The people of Israel live.
We have to listen to those voices. Those long ago who encouraged us to build a city on a hill to be a light unto the nations, an example to the world, to ensure Israel’s survival. And we have to listen to the voices of young people whose futures depend on the choices that we, the leaders of today, make. It’s for their future that we will give new strength to the U.S.-Israel partnership as AIPAC does like no other organization in our country. It’s for their future that we will come together giving greater voice to the timeless oath and we will remember forever those words and be driven by them: “Am Yisrael chai” will be said generations upon generations into the future because of the work you do and the work we will do together.
Thank you all very much. Honored to be with you. (Applause.)
The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department.
based on the original article by Jonathan Spyer that was posted by the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and that we re-post with a series of changes that are mainly of editorial nature. The Tower
For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied Europeans – British and French – victory in World War I which was the end of the Ottoman Empire, and followed later by the unraveling of the resulting colonial era. Since then, strategic analyses of the region have concentrated on the relations between these states, created by bureaucratic lines drawn by the interim colonial powers, and diplomatic efforts have generally attempted to maintain their stability and the integrity of these borders. As a result, the current map of the Middle East has remained largely unchanged over more than nine decades.
But these actually never made sense and do so much less now. The old maps do not reflect the reality on the ground, and the region is now defined not by rivalry between nation-states, but by sectarian divisions that are spilling across the old borders and rendering them irrelevant. Today, there is a single sectarian war underway across the Middle East, one that threatens to engulf the entire region.
This war has a number of fronts, some more intense and active than others, but it is everywhere defined by sectarian conflict – especially the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is most intense in the area encompassing the current states of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; but has also spread further afield—to Bahrain, northern Yemen, and to some degree Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia.
The core power on the Shia side is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state that accepts terror as a means to implement its plans. Iran was the founding patron of Hezbollah, which even before 9/11 had killed more Americans than any terror group in the world. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Maliki government and assorted Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are all allies or proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is capable of rendering substantial assistance to its friends through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – a powerful military and economic force that possesses substantial expertise and experience in building proxy organizations and engaging in political and paramilitary warfare.
On the Sunni side, the dominant power is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been wary of Tehran, but also has struggled since 9/11 – on and off – against the Islamists of Al Qaeda. Its allies include various groups among the Syrian rebels, the March 14 movement in Lebanon, the military regime in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and sometimes Turkey. The Saudis, however, are at something of a disadvantage. They possess no parallel to the IRGC, and have problematic relations with the extreme Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda, who have played a prominent role in the fighting on all three major fronts and who are an outgrowth of the Saudi Wahabbi movement – the kind of Islam on which the Saudi throne is based. (Here we have a clear different approach to the issue then we found in the original article – that seemed to be over friendly to the Saudis – possibly because of the way Washington is siding with the Saudis.)
How did this situation come about? Is there evidence of a clear linkage between the various forces on the respective sides? Why is this conflict so extreme in certain countries—like Syria and Iraq—where it appears to be leading to the breakup of these states? How dangerous are these changes for the West?
Focusing on the areas of most intense conflict—Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—can help us answer these questions.
This war is a result of the confluence of a number of circumstances. First, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all home to a host of different sectarian and ethnic communities. The stark divisions that exist in these societies have never been resolved. In Syria and Iraq, they were suppressed for decades by brutal dictatorial regimes. The Assad regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq – were family dictatorships based on minority sectarian communities – the Alawis in Syria, and the Arab Sunnis in Iraq – while claiming to rule in the name of pan-Arab nationalism. In service of this ideology, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes ruthlessly put down ethnic and sectarian separatism in all its forms; in particular, Shia Islamism in Iraq, Sunni Islamism in Syria, and the Kurdish national movement in both countries. All were treated without mercy.
Lebanon, by contrast, is a far weaker state, which was ruled by a power-sharing arrangement between ethnic and religious groups that collapsed into civil war in 1975. The issues underlying that war were never resolved; instead, between 1990 and 2005 the Syrian army presence in Lebanon ended all discussion of basic issues of national identity. (Here we must add something the original article has completely left untackled – the fact that in Lebanon the French colonial power has sponsored a Christian – mainly Maronite – minority and allowed for its governing over the Sunni and Shia parts of the population in a prearranged structure that fell apart with the influx of Sunni Palestinian refugees. These refugees ended up being supported by the Shia backed Hezbollah and eventually got attacked from the outside by the Israelis). Lebanon thus developed a different dynamics that is still tripartite in its Arab make up. Lebanon’s Maronite families with their French backing did not become dictators like in the cases of Iraq and Syria.
Over the last decade, the once ironclad structures of dictatorship and suppression that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions from erupting, have weakened or disappeared.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the Saddam Hussein regime. A sectarian Shia government, based on the Shia Arab majority and conditionally accepted by the Kurds, took its place. In Syria, a brutal civil war has severely curtailed the power of the Assad regime, which now rules only about 40 percent of the country’s territory. The Sunni Arab majority and the Kurdish minority have carved out autonomous sectarian enclaves in the 60 percent that remains.
Western hopes that a non-sectarian identity would take hold in the areas formerly ruled by Saddam and the Assads are persistent but proven illusory. Remarks about Iraq made by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2004 sum up these hopes and the tendency to self-delusion that often accompanies them. “What has been impressive to me so far,” Rice said, is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq…. I think particularly the Kurds have shown a propensity to want to bridge differences that were historic differences in many ways that were fueled by Saddam Hussein and his regime… What I have found interesting and I think important is the degree to which the leaders of the Shia and Kurdish and Sunni communities have continually expressed their desires to live in a unified Iraq.
This faith is expressed also by the Obama Administration, and as a result, it has continued to support the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It sees Maliki’s opposition to Sunni insurgents in western Anbar province as an elected government’s opposition to extremist rebels. This fails to take into account the sectarian nature of the Maliki government itself, and the discriminatory policies he has pursued against the Sunnis of western Iraq.
The reemergence of sectarian conflict so evident in Iraq has also emerged in Syria and is, in turn, showed up in neighboring Lebanon.
Lebanon was first drawn into the Syrian conflict as a result of the significant and highly effective intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime by Iran’s Lebanon-based terrorist army, Hezbollah. This quickly led to retaliation against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon by elements among Syria’s Sunni rebels. Supporters of the Sunni rebels have succeeded in attacking Hezbollah’s Dahiyeh compound in south Beirut five times. The bombing on January 2, 2014, was carried out by a young Lebanese member of an organization called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) named Qutaiba Muhammad al-Satem; ISIS are Islamic extremists who have been operating as a branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.
A map of Syria showing zones of control by the regime and various militias. (Image Source: WikiMedia Commons)
While Hezbollah’s decision to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and the subsequent Sunni reaction is partially the result of the divided nature of Lebanon, and Syria, and their unresolved questions of national identity, larger regional conflicts, also of a sectarian nature, are a driving force behind the violence.
Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war came not as a result of automatic sentiments of solidarity, but because Hezbollah forms part of a regional alliance headed by Iran, to which the Assad regime also belongs. When Assad found himself in trouble, Hezbollah was mobilized to assist him. On the opposing side, the Syrian rebels have benefited from the support and patronage of Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, and other states along the Arabian peninsula, including the United Arab Emirates.
This rivalry is long standing and not just rooted in theological differences. It is about power. Iran is controlled by a revolutionary regime whose goal is to become the hegemonic force in the Middle East. Although the Iranians certainly regard the Saudis as an enemy and as unfit custodians of Islam’s most holy sites, Tehran’s main goal is to assert control over Arabian Gulf energy supplies, replacing the U.S. as guarantor of resources upon which world is dependent.Tehran understands that the real source of power in the region is the Gulf itself, with its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas that are essential to the global economy. To achieve its goals, Iran must tempt or coerce the Gulf monarchies away from U.S. protection and toward an alliance with Tehran, and ironically, American perceived weakness in the face of Tehran’s nuclear pursuit makes that all the more possible.
Riyadh has emerged as the principle opponent to Iran’s regional ambitions, mainly because the former guarantor of the current regional order, the United States, has chosen to leave the field. Until 2011, the Middle East appeared to be locked into a kind of cold war, in which the Iranians, along with their allies and proxies, sought to overturn the U.S.-dominated regional order, which was based on U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Events over the last five years, however, have created the impression that the U.S. no longer wishes to play this role: America failed to back its longtime Egyptian ally, Hosni Mubarak, when he faced domestic unrest in early 2011. It failed to support the rebel forces fighting the Iran-backed Assad regime. And it failed to back Bahrain against an Iran-supported uprising in the same year. Now, the U.S. appears to be seeking a general rapprochement with Iran.
As a result of all this, Saudi Arabia has begun to take a far more active role in the region. Riyadh and its Gulf allies have certainly helped to finance and stabilize Egypt after the military removed Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government from power. It began to take a leading role in supporting the Syrian rebels. It has well-documented relations with the anti-Syrian March 14 movement in Lebanon. In December 2013, the Saudis pledged $3 billion to the official Lebanese army. They also support anti-Maliki elements in Iraq. In addition, they are seeking to create an alliance among the other Gulf states in order to oppose Iranian ambitions, with some success.
But all of the above will not work for the Saudis unless they also stretch out a friendly hand to Israel and do a “SADAT” – that is – backing the right of Israel provided it settles with the Palestinians and do this in a pro-active way by showing their readiness to bankroll a solution of the Palestinian conflict. We say this is the cheapest way for the Saudis to wrestle the region from the Iranians – but we found no such conclusion in the original article. This might be too revolutionary for the conventional mindset that believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just another Middle East intractable conflict like the one in the article. The trick is to see how an opportunity is created when trying to go about two seemingly intractable problems in tandem!
The original article follows instead by saying – “increasingly violent rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intensified by American withdrawal from the region, has helped turn a conflict that was once cold into an increasingly hot cross-border sectarian war.”
There is considerable evidence of links between Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and their respective allies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, on the other.
On the Iranian side, Tehran no longer makes any serious attempt to deny the enormous assistance they have given the Assad regime in Syria. Indeed, the Iranians have effectively mobilized all their available regional assets in order to preserve it. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force, Qassem Suleimani, went to Syria himself in order to coordinate these efforts. Perhaps most notably, in mid-2012 the Iranians began training a new light infantry force for Assad. Called the National Defense Force, it was necessary because Assad was unable to use much of his own army, which consisted of Sunni conscripts whose loyalty was unreliable. Iran has even sent its own IRGC fighters to fight in Syria; a fact revealed by footage taken by an Iranian cameraman who was later killed by the rebels, the testimony of Syrian defectors, and the capture of a number of IRGC men in August 2012.
In April 2013, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was summoned to Iran and instructed to deploy his own fighters in Syria. Up to 10,000 of them are now on the ground in Syria at any given time, and they played a crucial role in retaking the strategic town of Qusayr in August 2013. Hezbollah fighters are also taking a prominent role in the battle for the Qalamun area near the Lebanese border, as well as the fighting around Damascus.
Iranian financial donations have also been vital in keeping the regime alive. In January 2013, Iran announced a “credit facility” agreement with Syria that extended a $1 billion line of credit to Assad. Later the same year, an additional credit line of $3.6 billion was announced.
Iraq has also played a vital role in supporting Assad, mainly by allowing Iran to use Iraqi territory and airspace to transfer weapons to Syrian forces. At first glance, this appears to be a strange policy. Relations between Iraq and Syria prior to the civil war were not good, with Maliki openly accusing Assad of supporting Sunni insurgents. But this has now changed. Indeed, Maliki has openly supported Assad since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. This reflects his increasing closeness to Iran, which helped ensure Maliki’s emergence as prime minister after the 2010 elections and pressured Assad to support him as well. Relations between Iraq, Iran, and Syria have only improved since.
In addition to government support, Iraqi Shia militias are now fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad. The Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, Ktaeb Hezbollah, and the Ahl al-Haq group all have forces in Syria. They are playing an important role, given that one of Assad’s major weaknesses is his lack of reliably loyal soldiers. The eruption of violence in Iraq’s western Anbar province has further cemented this alliance, since the insurgency is a direct result of advances made by Sunni jihadis in Syria.
As a result of all this, the Iranian-led side of the regional conflict has emerged as a tightly organized alliance, capable of acting in a coordinated way, pooling its resources for a common goal, and fighting effectively from western Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Sunni side of the conflict is more chaotic and disjointed. Saudi Arabia is its main financier, but it lacks an equivalent to the Qods force and the IRGC, who are world leaders in subversion and irregular warfare.
Only the most extreme jihadi elements appear capable of clear coordination across borders. For example, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as its name suggests, is active in both countries and controls a contiguous area stretching from the western Anbar province in Iraq to the eastern Raqqa province in Syria. ISIS regards itself as a franchise of al-Qaeda, although it does not take orders directly from the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Another al-Qaeda group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is active in Syria. In Lebanon, a third branch of al-Qaeda, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has played a role in the attacks on Hezbollah. In addition, both the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are active in Lebanon.
But there are also less extreme groups opposing the Syrian-Iranian axis. Saudi Arabia has backed the March 14 movement, which is the main Sunni opposition party in Lebanon, as well as providing financial support to the Lebanese army. In Syria, the Saudis have fostered the Islamic Front, an alliance of eight Islamist groups unconnected to al-Qaeda. It includes some of the strongest rebel brigades, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and Liwa al-Tawhid. It is now emerging as the key bloc among the rebels. The Saudis also dominate the Syrian opposition in exile, with Ahmed Jarba, who has close links to Riyadh, recently reelected chairman of the Syrian National Coalition.
There are no indications that the Saudis are backing Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but the larger Sunni community is certainly looking to Riyadh for help. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the current Iraqi government are very bad. The border between the two countries is closed except during the Hajj pilgrimage, there is no Saudi embassy in Baghdad, and commercial relations are kept at a minimum. Some of the Sunni tribes in western Anbar have close links to the Saudis. While they are hostile to al-Qaeda, they are also opposed to the Maliki government, which they regard as a sectarian Shia regime.
There is a third element to this regional conflict that is something of a wild card: The Kurds. A non-Arab people who have long sought an independent state, the Kurds have succeeded in creating a flourishing autonomous zone in northern Iraq that enjoys most of the elements of de facto sovereignty. Since July 2012, another Kurdish autonomous zone has been established in northeast Syria. These two areas occupy a contiguous land mass, but are not politically united. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, while the autonomous zone in northeast Syria is controlled by the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish-based leftist PKK movement.
These movements are rivals, and each sees itself as the appropriate leader of the Kurds. But while there is tension between them, each appears to be securely in control of its respective areas. The Kurds do not enjoy the support of any state in the region, and both the Iranians and the Saudis regard Kurdish national aspirations with suspicion. Nonetheless, the Kurds have managed to accumulate sufficient organizational and military strength to ensure the survival of their self-governing enclaves.
All these factors indicate that two rival alliances are clashing for hegemony over the region. There are myriad practical links between the various combatants, and their activities have long since spilled across the borders of the various states involved in the fighting; as indicated by the presence of Iranian fighters, ISIS, and Hezbollah in Syria; Syrian rebels in Lebanon; and many other examples. Iran is the leader of one side, Saudi Arabia is the main backer of the other, while the Kurds are concerned with maintaining their areas of control and are trying to stay out of the conflict.
The most significant result of the analysis is that the continued existence of Syria and Iraq as unified states is now in question. Practically speaking, Syria has already split into three areas, each controlled by one of the three elements listed above. Iraq has also effectively split into Kurdish and Arab zones, with Sunni and Shia groups fighting over the latter.
In many ways, Lebanon ceased to function as a unified state some time ago; since Hezbollah essentially functions as a de facto mini-state of its own. The Lebanese Sunnis lack a military tradition and have proved helpless in the face of Iran’s support for Hezbollah. But now, the emergence of the Syrian rebels and the growing popularity of Islamism among the Sunni underclass may be altering this balance. This appears to be borne out by the recent surge in Sunni violence against Hezbollah, which is the result of an attempt by Syrian jihadis and other rebels—in concert with their local allies—to bring the war to Lebanon.
Taken together, this indicates that a massive paradigm shift is underway in much of the Middle East. The eclipse of Arab nationalist dictatorships in Iraq and Syria, the historical failure to develop a unified national identity in these states, their mixed ethnic and sectarian makeup, and the U.S.’s withdrawal from its dominant position in the region—with the resulting emergence of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry—have all combined to produce an extraordinary result: A region-wide sectarian war is now taking place in the areas still officially referred to as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
For the West, as in the region itself, this has very serious implications. Dealing with it effectively will required an equally massive paradigm shift in strategic thinking on the Middle East, one that is capable of dispensing with previous illusions and admitting that sovereign borders once regarded as sacrosanct are swiftly becoming meaningless.
There are new borders taking shape, defined by sectarian divisions that the West ignores at its peril. Despite fantasies of withdrawing from the region, the security of global energy supplies and the maintenance of regional stability are still essential to Western interests. The West has as large a stake in the outcome of this sectarian conflict as the regional players involved. If it cannot adapt to the new Middle East that is swiftly taking shape, it will find itself on the losing side.
The concluding paragraphs are why we thought highly about the article even we had to make some changes in it – and now again – we do not think the Western powers – the United States and the former Middle East colonial Powers of Britain and France have to try to keep onto the internal borders of the fictional States of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, they helped create years ago, and then helped maintain by helping the dictatorial and monarchic regimes that they helped institute.
It is obvious – if the Iran led Shia forces and allies come out victorious in Syria, there will be immediate follow-ups in Bahrain and the oil regions of Eastern Saudi Arabia itself – regions with clear Shia majorities.
As we said, the self preservation of the Saudi regime, that is if Saudi Arabia wants indeed to be considered as half of the tongues that hold together the Middle East – takes them to Jerusalem/Tel Aviv/Ramallah – and this might not be what the original article intended.
That article wanted the Saudis to travel to Washington instead – but really – President Obama with the US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is best advised to let the Arabs stew in their own pot, go for alternate energy, help China go for alternate energy as well – so they are not dependent on this imaginary Middle East source of global oil either. After all – the US has already lost the oil of Iraq and the contracts now are with China – who imagines the US thinks they will still manage the Saudi oil? The only ones still ready to hang on to strong positions in the region are the Israelis – and that is where the Saudis could find real brothers. Trying to differentiate between varieties of Islamic extremists will not help create that devil with talent to know the difference between an Al-Qaeda Sunni who works well with the Iranian Shia and the Iraqi Sunni who still likes Saudi money.