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Posted on on April 16th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Brazen Hamas Billboard Links Hamas to Turkey, Qatar.

April 3, 2014    1 comment
Hamas's publicity billboard that reads, 'Jerusalem is Waiting for Men.' Photo: Screenshot.

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 massive banner was photographed in Gaza by the Palestinian News Agency, and flagged on Thursday by blogger Elder of Ziyon.

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.


Egyptian Entrepreneur Laments Lack of Open Business With Israel.

April 3, 2014   3 comments
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.

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.






Posted on on February 17th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

date:  Mon, Feb 17, 2014


Syrian rebels or international terrorists?
Vijay Prashad* – The Hindu
*Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
With Bashar Assad arguing that this is a war against terrorism, and the rebels arguing that this is a war against authoritarianism, no agreement can come of the peace talks on Syria.
Geneva 2’s mood mirrored the sound of mortar and despair on the ground in Syria. Not much of substance came of the former, as the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tiredly indicated that diplomacy continued despite the lack of a breakthrough. He hoped that the United States and the Russians would pressure their clients to remain at the table, from where, for three weeks, little of value has emerged. No agreement can come of these peace talks for at least two reasons. First, the government of Bashar Assad and the rebel coalition do not agree on the interpretation of the conflict. Mr. Assad argues that this is a war against terrorism (Al-Qaeda), while the rebels argue that this is a war against authoritarianism (the Assad government). Second, the rebels themselves are deeply fractured, with the Islamists in Syria who are doing the brunt of the fighting indisposed to any peace talks.
Mr. Brahimi hoped that humanitarian relief would be the glue to hold the two sides together. Residents in the old city of Homs and in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Yarmouk in Damascus have been under siege for two years. It was hoped that safe passage could be provided for food and medicine, but this was not accomplished. U.N. and Islamic Red Cross workers bravely avoided snipers and shells to transport food and medicines to the Syrians; children among them stared at fresh fruit, unsure of what to do with it. Absent momentum from Geneva, the options for a regional solution are back on the table.
Role for India, China?
In 2012, Egypt convened the Syria Contact Group that comprised Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — unlikely partners. Pressure from the U.S. and Russia at that time closed down the Group. Today, the regional partners seek an exit from their exaggerated postures over Syria, but there is no diplomatic space for them to act. It falls to powers that are untainted by the war, perhaps China and India, to call for a meeting — a Beijing or New Delhi summit — to craft a serious agenda to pressure all sides to a ceasefire and a credible political process.
The war is now fought less on the ground and more over its interpretation. Expectations of a hasty collapse of the government withdraw as the Syrian Army takes Jarajir, along the Lebanon border. Islamists groups continue to fight against each other in the north, weakening their firepower as the Syrian army watches from the sidelines. The emboldened Syrian government has now stepped up its rhetoric about this war being essentially one against terrorists with affiliation to al-Qaeda. Ears that once rejected this narrative in the West and Turkey are now increasingly sympathetic to it. As the Islamists suffocate the rebellion, it becomes hard to champion them against the government. Focus has moved away from the prisons and barrel bombs of the government to the executions and social policies of the Islamists.
A year ago, the West and Turkey would have scoffed at talk of terrorism as the fantasy of the Assad government. The West and the Gulf Arabs had opened their coffers to the rebels, knowing full well that they were incubating the growth of the Islamist factions at the expense of the secular opposition. Turkey’s government of Recep Tayyip Erdog?an micromanaged the opposition, provided bases in Turkey and allowed well-armed fighters to slip across the border into Syria. By early 2012, it had become a common sight to see well-armed Islamist fighters in the streets of Antakya and in the refugee camps in Hatay Province. The seeds of what was to come — the entry of al-Qaeda into Syria — was set by an opportunistic and poorly conceived policy by Erdog?an’s government. It did not help that his otherwise well-spoken and highly-regarded Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog?lu began to refer to Syria’s Alawites (Mr. Assad’s community) as Nusayri, a derogatory sectarian term. Turkey joined U.S., Europe and Gulf Arab calls for Mr. Assad’s departure well before the numbers of those dead climbed above the thousands. Nervousness about the spread of al-Qaeda to Syria has made the rebels’ patrons edge closer to the Damascus narrative. The U.S. government wishes to arm the Iraqi government with Hellfire missiles and drones to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Britain has said that any fighter who comes back from Syria will be arrested (last week, a Sussex man — Abu Suleiman al-Britani — conducted a suicide operation in Aleppo). The Saudi Royal Court decreed that any Saudi found to have waged jihad abroad could spend up to 20 years in prison.
General Mansour al-Turki of the Saudi Interior Ministry said: “We are trying to stop everyone who wants to go to Syria, but we can’t stop leaks.” The Turkish Armed Forces fired on an ISIS convoy on January 28 inside Syria, and told the government in a report prepared jointly with the Turkish National Intelligence agency that al-Qaeda had made credible threats on Turkey.
Mr. Erdog?an hastened to Tehran to meet the new Iranian leadership — their public comments were on trade, but their private meetings were all on Syria and the need to combat the rise of terrorism. What Mr. Assad had warned about in 2012 came to pass — for whatever reason — and led to a loss of confidence among the rebels’ patrons for their future. Even al-Qaeda’s putative leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has sought to distance himself from ISIS. These signs indicate that on Syria, the “terrorism narrative” has come to dominate over the “authoritarian regime narrative.”
Islamic Front:
The fractious Syrian opposition that came to Geneva does not represent the main columns of rebel fighters on the ground. These are mainly Islamists — with the al-Qaeda wing represented by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the rest represented by the Islamic Front. They have no appetite for negotiation. Mr. Abu Omar of the Islamic Front said that Syria’s future would be created “here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the frontlines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves.” A U.S. intelligence official told me that when the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, “We smashed the mercury and watched it spread out slowly in the area.” Al-Qaeda was not demolished in Kandahar and Tora Bora. Its hardened cadre slipped across to Pakistan and then onwards to their homelands. There they regrouped, reviving the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al-Qaeda in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, Ansar Dine, and ISIS. The latter slipped into Syria from an Iraq broken by the U.S. occupation and the sectarian governance of the current government. There they worked with Jabhat al-Nusra and fought alongside other Islamist currents such as Ahrar ash-Sham. It was inevitable that these battle-tested Islamists would overrun the peaceful protesters and the defectors from the Syrian Army — the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — who scattered to the wind in 2012.
The FSA troops either joined up with the Islamists, continued to fight in small detachments, or linger precariously as twice defectors who are now homeless. The barbarism of the ISIS pushed other Islamists — with Gulf Arab support — to form the Islamic Front. The hope was that this group would run ISIS back to Iraq and remove the stigma of “al-Qaeda” from the Syrian rebellion. The problem is that one of the constituents of the Islamic Front — Jabhat al-Nusra, arguably the most effective of its fighting forces — sees itself as the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda and has largely abjured the fight against ISIS. Another problem is that the in-fighting on the ground seems to have tapered off — one of the Islamist groups, Suqour al-Sham signed a truce with ISIS and pledged to work together.
By early 2014, these groups found their supply lines cut off.  Iraq’s attack on ISIS began to seal the porous border that runs through the Great Syrian Desert.  Jordan had already tried to close its border since early 2013, having arrested over a hundred fighters who have tried to cross into Syria.  Lebanon’s border has become almost inaccessible for the rebels as the Syrian Army takes the roadway that runs along the boundary line.  Last year, Turkey closed the Azaz crossing once it was taken over by the radical Islamists.
On January 20, the rebels attacked the Turkish post at Cilvegözü-Bab al-Hawa, killing 16.  This is what spurred the Turkish Army to attack the ISIS convoy a week later.
As the Islamists saw their supply lines closed off, the U.S. announced that it would restart its aid to the rebel fighters.  On February 5, the Syrian Coalition chief Ahmad Jabra told Future TV that his rebels would get “advanced weapons” — likely from the U.S.  The FSA announced the formation of the Southern Front – with assistance from the West — to revive the dormant fight in Syria’s south-west.  All this took place during Geneva 2, signalling confusion in U.S. policy.       Does Washington still want to overthrow the Syrian government?  Would it live with an Islamist government on Israel’s borders?  Or, perhaps, the U.S. is eager for a stalemate, as pointed out by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, “The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad.  The regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion.  Both sides’ external allies are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.”  This is a cruel strategy.
It offers no hope of peace for the Syrian people.
Road ahead for Syria group:
A senior military official in West Asia told me that one of the most overlooked aspects of West Asia and North Africa is that the military leaderships of each country maintain close contacts with each other. During Turkey’s war against the Kurdish rebellion in its eastern provinces, the military coordinated their operations with the Syrian armed forces. These links have been maintained. When it became clear that Mr. Erdog?an’s exaggerated hopes for Syria failed, and with the growth of the Islamists on Turkey’s borders and the Kurds in Syria having declared their independence, the Turkish military exerted its views. The Iraqi armed forces had already begun their operations against ISIS. Additionally, Egypt’s new Field Marshal Sisi overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi when the latter encouraged jihadis to go to Syria. This was anathema to the Egyptian military who acted for this and other reasons to depose Mr. Morsi. The military view of the political situation leans naturally toward the terrorism narrative.
It appears now that the regional states are no longer agreed that their primary mission is the removal of Mr. Assad.This view — shared by the militaries — is evident in the political leadership in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.With Egypt, these three states would be the core of a rejuvenated Syria Contact Group.

The 2012 group also had Saudi Arabia, which might be enjoined to come back to the table if they see that their outside allies — notably the U.S. — are averse to a policy that would mean Jabhat al-Nusra in power in Damascus.

Without Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even Qatar, the Syria Contact Group would be less effective.

If the Syria Contact Group is to re-emerge, it would need to be incubated by pressure from China and India, two countries that are sympathetic to multipolar regionalism.
Thus far, neither China nor India has taken an active role in the Syrian conflict, content to work within the United Nations and to make statements as part of the BRICS group.
But the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the paralysis of the U.N. alongside the continued brutality in Syria require an alternative path to be opened up.
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have indicated willingness for a dialogue — China and India need to offer them the table.



Posted on on February 9th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (


Clashes in Istanbul over New Internet Law.

MENAFN – Qatar News Agency – 09/02/2014

Demonstrations against a restrictive new internet law grew violent Saturday night, as hundreds of protestors clashed with police near Istanbul’s main Taksim Square.

Anti-government demonstrators, who erected barricades near the square, battled police with rocks and fireworks. Police fought back with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Protestors set up barricades near the square, on a street between two hospitals. There were reports of numerous ambulances in the area, as well as many arrests. One press photographer was reported to be injured, and many money machines vandalised.

Opposition groups had called for a rally in Taksim Square to denounce the internet law, but Police closed off the square. Thousands of demonstrators chanted for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down.

On Thursday night the Turkish parliament approved amendments to its internet regulations that allow the government to block websites without a court order and mandate Internet Service Providers to store data for up to two years.

The law must still by signed by President Abdullah Gul. The European Union criticised Turkey for introducing tighter internet controls, urging a revision to comply with standards in the bloc that Ankara hopes to join.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that “the amendments to Turkey’s already restrictive internet law would compound a dismal record on press freedom in the country, which is the leading jailer of journalists worldwide.”

Erdogan on Saturday said “no censorship” would be imposed upon the internet. Instead, Erdogan said, the law will make the internet more safe and free, the Turkish Anadolu news agency reported.


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Protesters in Istanbul last June. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

It is still a marvel to behold Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s self-confidence, even after 11 years of his rule. In recent weeks, a new poster featuring Turkey’s prime minister has appeared throughout Istanbul, on highway billboards and mass transit. Wearing his usual dark suit, Erdogan looks to be in purposeful motion, like an action hero. Two large words in block letters, SAGLAM IRADE, Turkish for “Iron Will,” accompany him. Surely some of his supporters appreciate this evocation of 1930s-era masculinity, but for others, it must feel like an invasion of personal space. The enormous billboards intensify the claustrophobia that many Turks have felt for years: that Erdogan is everywhere, in every tree or open space sacrificed for a building, in every traffic jam, in every newspaper column and pro-government tweet and call to prayer. The poster, which a group of his supporters claims to have put up, begs to be defaced, and Turks have torn at it or covered it with new slogans: “Iron Fascist,” “Iron Corruption,” “Iron Enemy of the People.”

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Taksim Square, in the center of the city’s European side, is considered the heart of Istanbul. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

The public turn against Erdogan began last May, when protests in Istanbul escalated and pictures of police officers violently attacking the demonstrators circulated around the world. For the first time in a decade, Turkey didn’t look like one of the few Middle Eastern destinations where Westerners would take a vacation. The government was caught off guard. A couple of weeks later, Erdogan convened two meetings in the capital, Ankara, with assorted activists, artists and observers. Many immediately dismissed this public exercise as a sham gesture — plausible, given that the invitees included film stars — but some activists relished the opportunity to speak to their prime minister. The episode recalled the time when Robert F. Kennedy met with James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and Lorraine Hansberry in 1963 because he wanted to understand why blacks were angry. Erdogan wanted to understand why so many Turks were angry.

In one meeting, Erdogan sat at the head of the table, constantly writing with a fountain pen in a leather-bound notebook. He wrote for five hours as activists gave testimony about their experiences in the previous weeks. Erdogan’s cabinet ministers often cut them off or spoke with weary condescension about whether, say, tear gas could be dispensed from a low-hovering helicopter. Erdogan sometimes told his officials to be quiet. “Let them speak,” he said.

The protests began when activists gathered in Gezi Park to demonstrate against its demolition. Ipek Akpinar, a professor of architecture, asked Erdogan if he gave orders during the brutal first days, when the police burned the tents of peaceful environmentalists and assaulted them with pepper spray and tear gas. “Somehow, in the last 10 years, he gave an image of being democratic, of trying to talk with everyone, to understand other groups,” Akpinar told me later. “We couldn’t believe — we didn’t want to believe, probably — that he would do this.” The activists kept returning to this question. “Prime Minister Erdogan,” Akpinar asked, “did you know what was happening in the first three days?”

He said he did not. “My team didn’t take it very seriously,” Erdogan said, according to several people who attended the meeting. “We thought it was just environmentalists, and so we didn’t react. But yes, the police acted severely. I wasn’t aware of the burning of the tents the first two nights. I was told about it on the third day, and then it was too late.”

“And then what happened?” the professor asked. Several other activists joined in. “What did you do?” cried Nil Eyuboglu, a 20-year-old college student. “Tell us! They violently attacked us! How could you not know?”

“Don’t worry,” Erdogan said. “I brought the people responsible into my office and yelled at them. I made them cry.”

A man selling flags in Taksim Square. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

The prime minister seemed more like a clan leader than the head of a government. “It was like . . . there’s just one man,” Akpinar said later. She wasn’t the only one disappointed. Some of the young people in the meeting had attended religious schools, as Erdogan had, and their families had championed Erdogan’s conservative Muslim party. Like the millions of countrymen who regarded him as a hero, they had lived through decades of repression of religious Turks by secularist regimes. Now they were criticizing Erdogan harshly. Some even cried at the betrayal they felt.

Finally, listening to those who once supported him, he showed emotion: “How can even you misunderstand us,” he said,“ like everyone else?”

Over the last decade, Erdogan has made himself the most powerful prime minister in Turkey’s history, the most successful elected leader in the Middle East and the West’s great hope for the Muslim world. In the last year, however, a thoroughly different Erdogan has emerged: a symbol of authoritarianism, corruption and police brutality whose once-populist rhetoric has turned into thundering rage. The Gezi Park protests last spring challenged the enduring dysfunctions of the Turkish state — mainly disregard for the rule of law — as well as the dubious economic policies of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P. What followed was worse for Erdogan. In December, extensive accusations of corruption were leveled at him by followers of an Islamic movement that propelled him and the A.K.P. to power. The threat to Erdogan posed by the Gezi Park protests has been largely photogenic, but the challenge raised by the corruption charges is existential.

Erdogan’s response to both threats has been to punish those he considers disloyal. Critics of Erdogan are called traitors or terrorists — or, more colorfully, assassins. Thousands of activists have been detained, their schools or workplaces investigated, their homes raided. Informal emergency medical care, common during street protests, has been criminalized. Some 5,000 police officers and prosecutors, who Erdogan claims are conspiring against him, have been dismissed from their jobs or reassigned. Internet sites have suddenly become inaccessible. The judiciary is in danger of falling under Erdogan’s control. The exchange rates for Turkey’s currency, the lira, have plunged significantly, and predictions for the economy are dire. The feeling in Turkey is that, all of a sudden, the country that was a model for the modern Muslim world is on the verge of disintegration.

An Erdogan government was once synonymous with stability. One reason even skeptical secular Turks tolerated the A.K.P. was its hard-working officials. Even if people disliked their Islamist pasts or their head-scarf-wearing wives, they liked their industriousness, and above all the rapid economic development they facilitated in the 2000s. Before then, Turkish politicians were mostly bland bureaucrats, and Turkey was very poor. The military staged coups every decade or so in the name of secularism or anticommunism, each time shattering the country’s diverse political longings and enfeebling its government. The pattern changed somewhat in the mid-1980s, when Prime Minister Turgut Ozal liberalized the economy, which allowed a capitalist class of small-town entrepreneurs and fledgling corporate bigwigs to take root.

Erdogan, who attended a religious high school and played semiprofessional soccer, grew up in a conservative, blue-collar neighborhood in Istanbul called Kasimpasa. The men there are quick to say they are Erdogan’s “best friend,” and their loyalty to him can be fierce. At Erdogan’s old soccer club, I once asked some of them what makes a Kasimpasa man. A silver-haired guy in a black leather jacket said: “Watch Tayyip, watch how he walks. That’s Kasimpasa.”

On the evenings the riot police in Istanbul stayed away last June, thousands of people — Kurds and nationalists, gays and soccer fans, secularists and leftists — streamed into Taksim Square. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

A member of the youth groups of Islamist parties that later evolved into the A.K.P., Erdogan was elected Istanbul’s mayor in 1994 at age 40. He cleaned up the city; his administration distributed largess to peripheral neighborhoods and improved the water supply. To various elites, the A.K.P. men might have seemed like provincial rubes, but as an organization, the A.K.P. was like a sleek corporation.

“One usually assumes that Islamists are not educated, that Islamists are provincial — no, no, no,” says Seyla Benhabib, a Turkish political philosopher at Yale University. “There is a new political class in Turkey. The C.H.P. cadre” — the Republican People’s Party, the main secularist opposition party — “comes from the usual civil servants, teachers, judges, bureaucrats. A.K.P. is a very young and ambitious professional cadre of people.”

The A.K.P. emerged from an Islamist movement called Milli Gorus, whose outlook was anti-Western and combative — the Turkish, watered-down version of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Theirs was a challenge to the preceding Kemalist regimes, which embraced the ideals of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and enforced strict adherence to a secularist, nationalist identity. In the late 1990s, after he was jailed briefly for reciting a supposedly Islamist poem in public, Erdogan shifted course. He began preaching a pro-European Union, pro-American and pro-business worldview, and rather than espousing Islamist politics, he framed religious rights in terms of personal freedom. As a Turkish scholar named M. Hakan Yavuz put it in his 2009 book, “Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey,” the A.K.P. didn’t operate outwardly as an Islamist group at all; it was a pragmatic party of “services.” Erdogan’s transformation won him the admiration of liberals at home and abroad. It also caught the attention of another Islamic movement eager for power, one that followed the teachings of an imam named Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen is a Muslim preacher who in the 1960s began promoting a Sufi-inspired vision of Islam and a strategy for leading a modern and religious life that offered his followers a path to success in Turkey. The stated goal was spreading an emphatically peaceful expression of Islam, but a central ambition was also the expansion of the movement, which required amassing followers and capital. The Gulenists, who prefer to be called sympathizers, describe themselves as nonpolitical, anti-violence, pro-business and deeply patriotic. Indeed, the movement advocates a specifically Turkish Islam. Unlike Milli Gorus, it rejects party politics; theirs is “cultural Islam,” its adherents say, a religion-based civic movement they call Hizmet, or Service. Instead of Quranic schools, the Gulenists have built secular ones emphasizing science, as well as colleges, media companies, publishing houses, industrial groups, tutoring centers for the college entrance exam and international nongovernmental organizations. The Gulenists run 2,000 schools in 160 countries; outside Turkey, the countries with the greatest number of these schools are Germany and the United States.

When I embarked on a tour of Gulen’s world a few years ago, I visited some of the schools in Houston and Washington, as well as a boarding school in Kabul, Afghanistan. In many of them, students learn Black Sea folk dances­ and Turkish poetry. Gulen himself, who is 72, lives in a wooded area in the Poconos behind a security checkpoint; he is supposed to have moved to the United States for medical treatment, and his residence in a country that many Turks deem meddlesome, if not nefarious, has made him the human flame that sustains a thousand conspiracy theories. In 2010, when I visited Gulen’s compound, a couple had come from Japan to see him. “Hocaefendi,” or master teacher, as he is called, was too ill to meet me. He typically gives interviews to journalists only when he has something specific to announce.

The Gulenists I met at the compound were relentlessly charming, friendly and intelligent. They also engaged in self-protective obfuscation, something the sociologist Joshua Hendrick, an assistant professor at Loyola University in Maryland, calls “strategic ambiguity,” which shrouds some of their activities. This lack of transparency, they say, is justified by their past persecution at the hands of the Turkish military.

Among the silent protesters in Taksim Square. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

An alliance in the early 2000s with the ascendant A.K.P., whose center-right, pro-business perspective they shared, offered the Gulenists a way to extend their influence, even as they refrained from putting up their own candidates for Parliament. In Turkey, Hendrick says, “parties come and go, and any party isn’t going to have a long shelf life.” But, he says, succeeding in business or receiving ministerial appointments or joining the police confers lasting power: “Affiliates of the Gulen community have been accruing influence in the Istanbul police force and other police forces, and in the judiciary and prosecuting offices around the country.” This aspiration to secure important government jobs makes many Turks suspicious of their motives.

Mustafa Yesil, the president of the Journalist and Writers Foundation, an Istanbul-based public-relations arm for Gulen’s followers, argues that every citizen has the right to work in any sector of the society. “Mr. Gulen sees three problems in society: ignorance, conflict and poverty,” he said of the Gulenists’ ideals. “Hizmet supported A.K.P. based on the promise that A.K.P. would fight against the military tutelage, further the E.U. process and democratization and create a new civilian constitution.”

Erdogan welcomed the movement’s international influence and media support. With its endorsements, he achieved real gains. He sidelined the military. He moved Turkey’s laws significantly toward European Union norms. The economy flourished, as he pushed privatization and investors from abroad poured money into the country. The A.K.P. built hospitals, roads, bridges and luxury shopping malls. Turkey had been so dysfunctional, and so undemocratic, that many of these initiatives were necessary.

Eventually, however, they seemed like a power grab. Around 2007, the A.K.P. and Gulenists in the judiciary and the police force put hundreds of journalists and former military generals on trial, charged with being members of a Kemalist “deep state.” Much of the evidence appeared to have been manufactured by Gulenists. At the same time, many Turks were beginning to believe that the intelligence wing of the police force was wiretapping the phones of journalists and businessmen. Erdogan himself bullied the corporate owners of media outlets, and hundreds of journalists were muzzled or fired. And in 2010, a referendum on the Constitution revamped the judicial system to favor the judges affiliated with Erdogan and Gulen. Instead of reforming the state, the A.K.P. appeared to be capturing it.

Yet the Erdogan-Gulen media machine, suffusing the landscape with the rhetoric of freedom and progress, managed to portray Erdogan as the very incarnation of democracy. In 2011, Erdogan won his third national election with nearly 50 percent of the vote, which he took as a mandate for the Erdoganization of everything.

One of Erdogan’s third-term promises was a package of vast construction projects, and he quickly got to work. Turkey is run like a city, where the prime minister can control local projects as if he’s playing in his own private Legoland. An earlier venture he endorsed, for example, was Miniaturk, a park in Istanbul. It is a scaled-down version of the country’s major historical sites (the Hagia Sophia, for one, is nose height), and it seemingly embodies Erdogan’s aesthetic vision for Istanbul: a theme-park parody of itself. He started construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus, which meant removing a million trees. He flirted with a plan, known as the Crazy Project, to build a second Bosporus, as well as a second Istanbul, the promos for which looked liked something out of the 1927 Fritz Lang film “Metropolis.” Then he announced a new project for Taksim Square.

Police officers in Taksim Square. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

Taksim, in the center of the city’s European side, is considered the heart of Istanbul. The square itself surrounds tiny Gezi Park and is covered with concrete and filled with traffic, but the absence of buildings offers at least a sense of free space. Erdogan wanted to close the square to cars, build tunnels for them beneath it and replace Gezi Park and its rows of sycamore trees with a giant shopping center designed to look like Ottoman-era military barracks. Putting anything Ottoman-like in Taksim, a symbol of the secular republic, felt like an assertion of Erdogan’s neo-Islamic identity. In terms of scale and presumption, it would be as if Michael Bloomberg, New York’s former mayor, tried to erect a five-story shopping mall in Bryant Park with facades like blinking Bloomberg terminals.

Except Erdogan wasn’t the mayor of Istanbul. And he wasn’t consulting his constituents there. Far from it: When a local committee composed of academics, historians and municipal appointees unanimously voted against the plan, he simply had another committee made up of his own bureaucratic appointments override the vote. This, to Turks, was what his rule had come to mean.

Osman Can, a constitutional scholar who is on the A.K.P.’s executive committee, says Erdogan’s ability to act unilaterally is a byproduct of Turkey’s highly centralized political structure, in which all decisions are made in Ankara. “The governors are appointed by the central government, so they are not elected,” Can says. “The mayors are elected, but Ankara also controls the mayors. Normally the mayor would decide things in a city. But if the prime minister happened to be interested in a park, the mayor can’t resist him.”

The A.K.P. is the rare party that has made important changes to democratize Turkey, Can says, but the system established a century ago by Ataturk and his followers limits those advances. “It was a conscious choice of Ataturk,” he says. “They wanted to control everything, they want to change the people, change the minds, reformat people. How could they do this? A decentralized system? No. An independent judiciary? No.” The only limitation, Can says, “is the reaction of the people.”

And the people reacted in a surprising and organic way. Many of the protesters in Istanbul last year were not activists. They were apolitical verging on apathetic members of the middle class, whose parents, traumatized by coups, taught them to stay out of politics. Radicalization happened quickly. Guzin, a 35-year-old lawyer who didn’t want me to use her last name, was a typical case. A week after the police cleared Gezi Park of its occupants, I met her in the Taksim neighborhood of Cihangir.

“My father is a supporter of Erdogan — he is in love,” she said. “My parents also had not been happy about what happened to religious people in the 1990s, when women couldn’t wear the head scarf — my mother covers — and Erdogan had fought for their rights. But it’s more that my father likes all the things that capitalism brings; every time I go to my village, he says, ‘Look at the roads, look at the factories, look at the health care.’ He doesn’t see the negative. And he was really angry when I told him I was protesting.”

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Protesters in Taksim Square last June. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

Guzin had heard that some 50 environmentalists, in a city of 15 million people, in a country of 80 million, had pitched tents in Gezi. “When I read about Gezi Park, for the first time I said, ‘We should do something,’ ” she told me. “I got like five people, and we just went and sat on the grass. There were some tents, but it wasn’t that crowded. I had wanted to see so many more, like 5,000 people. So I was a little disappointed, and we went home.”

Around 4 the next morning, the police lit tents on fire. Guzin said that when she read about it in the newspaper the next day, she thought: They have no right to do that. They don’t even have the right to take the tents.

“I got really angry,” she said, “and I called all my friends and said, ‘Come on, let’s go again.’ We knew they had used tear gas before, so we went to the pharmacy to get masks, and they said: ‘O.K., get ready, bring water, put on your gas mask. And come back safe.’ We thought, What is happening? Then we saw a huge crowd walking toward Gezi Park. And suddenly I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t even put my mask on.”

Guzin continued: “I started to breathe again, thankfully, but I saw the water cannon, and I was scared, and people got panicked. I kept checking behind me to see if it was going to hit me, and it did. But then I thought, O.K., we passed this, we can survive it. And I became braver. We went back maybe 10 times that night. When everyone in the neighborhoods began banging pots and pans from their windows for us, I was going to cry. I thought, Wow, we are doing something good.”

Within a week, the activists’ tiny sit-in spread to 70 cities. The occupation of Gezi Park lasted 19 days. In Istanbul, on the evenings the riot police stayed away, thousands of people — Kurds and nationalists, gays and soccer fans, secularists and leftists — streamed into the square to celebrate what was a historic act of state defiance. It was utterly leaderless. One Kurdish demonstrator told me, “Perhaps the only thing that could have brought all of these warring groups together was something as innocuous as a park.”

Many participants described their time in Gezi Park as a first brush with political consciousness. In the early 2000s, the Turkish people experienced what they were told was a democratic opening. Now they wondered whether something was being taken away from them, or whether that democracy was a mirage. The protesters showed a global audience that Turkey’s new wealth was a distraction from the realities of injustice and one-man rule. And the cacophonous utopia that bloomed in the park served as a rebuke to the blandly baroque language of neoliberal democracy and family-values conservatism that the A.K.P. and Gulenist media had so skillfully deployed. As one activist named Zeynel Gul explained to me, Gezi wasn’t Occupy, Syntagma or Tahrir — referring to the protests in New York, Athens and Cairo — it was “all but none.” Erdogan, meanwhile, called the protesters “terrorists” and “looters” and declared that a conspiracy was opposing him.

A protester in Taksim Square. Joachim Ladefoged/Vll, for The New York Times

From Pennsylvania, Fethullah Gulen chastised both the prime minister and the protesters. “We need to handle them in a smart way,” he said in a video on his website. “If you are facing an invasion of ants, you can’t disregard it, thinking that they are ‘ants.’ ” The Gulenists do not support street protests, and they, like Erdogan, believed that armed groups had joined the demonstrations in Gezi Park — but Erdogan was making Turkey look bad.

The quarrel between the two allies had been slowly brewing for years. It was financial, ideological and moral, but it was mostly about power. The Gulenists didn’t like Erdogan’s sudden transformation into a hero of the Arab street. In 2010, when the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara tried to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza, the Gulen sympathizers were against, as they put it, “confrontation.” “What I saw was not pretty,” Gulen said in a rare interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It was ugly.” More important, Gulenists seemed to oppose Erdogan’s ways of resolving the 30-year-old conflict between Turkey and its disenfranchised Kurds. In 2012, prosecutors who were assumed to be Gulenists subpoenaed a Turkish official who had been negotiating with Kurdish leaders and who also happens to be the head of Turkey’s national intelligence organization. Erdogan was enraged by the Gulenists’ meddling.

Fundamentally, Gulenists disagreed with Erdogan’s political tactics. “Gulen doesn’t cultivate influence through top-down reforms,” says Hendrick, who lived among the Gulenists for more than a year while researching his book about Gulen. “They encourage social change by winning hearts and minds through media, through education and through competitive market performance.”

Erdogan attacked the Gulenists at that level. In November, his plans to close the college-exam-preparation schools, many of which are run by the Gulen movement, became public. Closing a multimillion-dollar industry has more than financial ramifications; those schools are where the Gulen movement recruits members. Erdogan, Hendrick says, is “going after the existential nature of the movement by destroying its human resources.

Three weeks later, the Gulenists struck back.  (On Twitter, someone posted a doctored picture of Gulen holding a lightsaber.)

In mid-December, the authorities, presumably Gulenist sympathizers, brought corruption charges against the businessman sons of three A.K.P. ministers and several businessmen tied to Erdogan, including his son, Bilal. Millions of dollars were said to have been suddenly discovered in shoe boxes in a closet belonging to the chief executive of a bank. Shady gold-for-oil schemes with Iran were exposed. Bribery for construction projects unexpectedly came to light. Corruption is an open secret in Turkey, but the A.K.P. had been untouchable. When Erdogan asked the ministers to take the fall and resign, one of them said publicly that most of the construction projects had been approved by Erdogan.
“I want to express my belief that the esteemed prime minister should also resign,” he said.

Since then, Erdogan has declared that the Gulenists’ corruption charges­ constitute a conspiracy against him by a “parallel state.” To obstruct the investigation, he has purged thousands of supposed Gulenists from the police forces and reassigned the prosecutors on the corruption cases. Last month, the Gulenist Journalists and Writers Foundation held a news conference in Taksim Square and denied that Gulen sympathizers made up a parallel state with intelligence capabilities. One speaker there nevertheless made it clear that the movement wanted Erdogan to go: “In England, Margaret Thatcher lost touch with the people at the end. In the United States, even a popular politician like Bill Clinton cannot serve three terms.”

Are the Gulenists a parallel state, or a hierarchical minority faction with some self-serving ambitions, like interest groups in any society? Hendrick says that “groups coming from the same educational or religious networks and gaining positions of authority in the state — for the United States, this is normal. In Turkey, where the state has not been open to all, it is conspiratorial.” Osman Can says their presence in the judiciary is a “violation of state sovereignty.” The Gulenists’ opacity makes it difficult to tell whether they seek to control Turkey. Nonetheless, that they are able to exercise any power at all resulted from the same forces that allowed Erdogan to come to power, as well as made it possible for thousands of Turks to occupy a park — because Turkey had opened up to them.

But Erdogan no longer has use for his country’s nascent inclusiveness. With his electoral mandate, he seems to believe he embodies Turkey himself. It is very likely that his core constituents, those who still love the man they call the Conqueror, will cast their votes for the A.K.P. in this spring’s municipal elections. Erdogan’s public vengefulness, however, may well wreck the economy, wounding the vulnerable people he once claimed to speak for. When he lashes out during public appearances — most recently describing his critics as members of a “losers’ lobby” — many Turks feel as if they are seeing the fractured future of their country.

In a way, Erdogan’s bad year is a result of a liberalizing society clashing with an inherently illiberal Turkish system. The Turkish Model — the idea that the A.K.P.’s softer vision of Islam was compatible with democracy — suggested a way forward for Middle Eastern countries. But Turkey’s biggest problem, its authoritarian structure, has little to do with Islam. The state remains a tool for accumulating disproportionate power, and when threatened, it sacrifices its citizens to save itself. If a prime minister can co-opt the laws and the media, and if a self-interested group can prosecute trials of dubious legality, and if the citizens have nowhere to express themselves but in the streets, then the state institutions are broken. Someday Erdogan will be gone, but Turkey’s system will still be a work in progress. Democratization takes a long time, and as Gezi Park and other global movements have proved, part of the process is figuring out what kind of country its citizens want.

The activist Zeynel Gul touched on this feeling when he said to me about Gezi Park: “It was important for us to experience that kind of life. If you were hungry, the food was free. If you were wounded, someone would carry you to the emergency tent. If you needed a lawyer, he is always there. Gezi gave us a powerful sense of a world based on solidarity and equality, which we could not imagine before. No one can take away what we experienced in the park.”

Suzy Hansen is a contributing writer for the magazine. She lives in Istanbul.




Posted on on February 1st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

From the Huffington Post – June 3, 2013 –

Al Gore Sued Over Current TV Sale To Al Jazeera.

SAN FRANCISCO — A television consultant claims that former Vice President Al Gore and others at Current TV stole his idea to sell the struggling network to Al-Jazeera.

Los Angeles resident John Terenzio is demanding more than $5 million in a lawsuit quietly filed in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday.

Al-Jazerra announced Jan. 3, 2013  that it would pay $500 million for San Francisco-based Current TV.


Terenzio alleges he first brought the idea of the Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV to board member Richard Blum in July, and he expected to be paid if his plan was used. The lawsuit claims Blum was open to the plan, which Terenzio laid out with a detailed PowerPoint presentation but feared Gore would find such a deal with the oil-rich government of Qatar “politically unappealing.”

Neither Gore or Blum, nor their representatives, could be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Gore co-founded Current TV in 2005 with Joel Hyatt, with each receiving a 20 percent stakes in Current, a politically left leaning news and talk network. Comcast Corp. had less than a 10 percent stake. Another major investor in Current TV was supermarket magnate and entertainment industry investor Ron Burkle, according to information service Capital IQ.

Blum, a venture capitalist and husband of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is also an investor in Current TV.

Terenzio claims he presented to Blum “a step-by-step approach for making the sale of the liberal media outlet to Al-Jazeera palatable to U.S. lawmakers, pro-Israel factions, cable operators and, most importantly, the American public.”

Terenzio claims he created the English version of China Central Television and reprogrammed it for American audiences. He said he planned to use the same strategies in rebranding Current TV into Al-Jazeera America.

“Blum greeted Terenzio’s proposal with enthusiasm, indicating that he and other investors were eager to salvage their multi-million investment in the floundering cable network,” Terenzio claims in his lawsuit.

Terenzio said he believes Gore did turn down the deal in July and was “adamant” in rejecting it.

Terenzio’s attorney, Ellyn Garofalo, said an “insider” told her client of Gore’s rejection but refused to identify that person in a brief email interview Wednesday night. Garofalo represented Dr. Sandeep Kapoor when a jury acquitted him of illegally funneling prescription drugs to Anna Nicole Smith.


Terenzio said Al-Jazeera’s January 2013 announcement of the sale was the first he heard of it.







ADL Rips Al Jazeera for Attempt to ‘Exploit and Diminish the Holocaust’


January 28, 2014



Al Jazeera newsroom. Photo: Wikipedia.


Leading Jewish human rights group, the Anti-Defamation League, slammed Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera for posting an online poll which asks viewers to compare the crimes of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with those of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.


“Shame on Al Jazeera.  Even when people are dying on the streets of Syria the network cannot help but to inject their own warped views toward Jews and the Holocaust,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. “This is part of the network’s dangerous obsession with Jews and Israel, and this poll is a blatant attempt to exploit and diminish the Holocaust while having the unintended effect of demeaning all of the people who died in Syria.”


“There is simply no comparison between Assad’s crimes, no matter how horrific they are, and the crimes of Hitler,” Foxman added.


So far, the online poll, posted just days prior to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, has received more than 44,000 votes. More than 95 percent of those voters responded “yes” to the question of whether Assad’s crimes are “worse than the Nazi crimes of Hitler.” Slightly more than 4 percent responded “no,” the ADL said.


The poll will be available on Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language website through January 30, and the network has announced that the results will be broadcast on a popular show called “The Opposite Direction,” which airs live across the Arab World.


Analyzing the poll further on its website, the ADL said, “The premise of the poll is inappropriate because it com­pares the death of more than six mil­lion Jews who were not part of any armed con­flict and were anni­hi­lated for no rea­son other than their faith and cul­ture to the human­i­tar­ian cri­sis and vio­lence in Syria.”


The group points out that commenters who weighed in on the poll on Facebook after “The Opposite Direction” host, Dr. Faisal Al-Qassem, posted a link to it, further justified Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.


“Unlike Bashar, Hitler killed the Jews and not his own peo­ple,” one com­ment reads. Other com­ments state that there is no way to com­pare the two at all because, unlike Bashar, “Hitler was defend­ing his people,” the ADL said.


The ADL said it has previously expressed concern about content featured on Al Jazeera, including the network’s showcasing of anti-Israel ideologues and its promotion of anti-Israel and extremist propaganda.


Al Jazeera first gained prominence after it aired video messages from arch-terrorist Osama Bin Laden following the 9-11 terror attacks on the U.S. that he masterminded. Recently it has drawn attention after launching an unprecedented entry into the U.S. market with Al Jazeera America.


“Al Jazeera’s decision to create a U.S.-based news channel was based in part on the fact that Americans have already shown a great demand for its news and programs,” said a company statement at the time of its launch.


Critics, however, doubt whether Al Jazeera can gain a foothold in the U.S. market and maintain that the network is just a mouthpiece for its Qatari owners and their agendas.


Posted on on January 22nd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (

 The following is by now old hat but we decided to post it anyhow – this because it is still the base for understanding the surrealism of the Syria Geneva II meeting that just started with a Montreux, Switzerland,  introductory.

The best reporting we know is that from Matthew Russell Lee reporting from the UN Security Council door:

We believe that Iran belongs to the meeting – so do the Kurds. But Geneva I deemed that the meeting is basically between the Assad government of Syria and a “UNIFIED” opposition delegation that in reality does not exist. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), that is headed by Mr. Jarba is a Saudi/Qatari – they are backed only by half of the Turkey based leadership, and do not include the Kurdish held territory at all. That is the Turks’ contribution to the Syrian/Iraqi mess.
Russia – the other P2 that with the US and the UN is in the driver’s seat of these meetings has its own Islamic problem in the Caucasus and in more central parts of Russia along the Volga river – they like to back the Assad regime for their own reasons but want no part of his other backers like Islamic Mullahs of Iran.

To start making sense Iran will have to come clean on its nuclear dealings with the West – so the US will allow them participation at the Syrian table and this is what we mean by making themselves Salon Clean. Without this there is no progress in their relations with the UN and the West on any issue. They may think that  time is in their favor and might try to play as outsiders against everyone at the Geneva table.

Russia on the other hand does not have the luxury of time – this because of the Sochi winter games and surprise – their internal nemesis are training now in Syria and the US might just decide that if the Russians are not supportive of the West’s goals in the Middle East – why play their ski slopes at all? That would be a terrible set-back to ambitious Mr. Putin.

The drama is thus that nobody gives a damn about Syrian lives when pursuing  their own particular goals and our true cynicism is revealed in the greater interest we saw in the Davos World Economic Forum meeting then in any of the Middle East negotiations.


U.N. Invites Iran to Syria Talks, Raising Objections From the U.S.

The announcement by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, that he had invited Iran to a peace conference to end the war in Syria drew strong objections on Sunday from American officials, who suggested that Iran had not met all the conditions for attending and that the invitation might need to be withdrawn.

At the heart of the dispute is whether Iran has accepted the terms of the talks, which begin Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland: to establish “by mutual consent” a transitional body to govern Syria. Mr. Ban said he had been privately assured that Iranian officials “welcome” those rules and that they had pledged to play “a positive and constructive role.”

American officials said they had been in regular communication with the United Nations over the requirements Iran would need to meet to be invited, but they appeared to have been caught off guard by Mr. Ban’s hastily organized news conference. They pointed out that Iran had not publicly accepted the formal mandate for the conference, which was agreed upon in Geneva in 2012 and is known as the Geneva communiqué.

“If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Officials in Washington emphasized that Iran had made no such public statement at the time of Mr. Ban’s news conference. It was expected to release one early Monday.

If Iran has accepted the Geneva terms, it would be a sharp turnaround, since it has long insisted that it will participate in talks only if there are no preconditions. Still, such a shift would not necessarily mean Tehran had accepted that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office.

Some 30 countries have been invited to Montreux for what may be a largely ceremonial opening day of the peace talks. Two days later, Syria’s government and opposition delegations will move to Geneva to continue the deliberations, mediated by a United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Diplomats and Middle East analysts say that if there are any breakthroughs, they will take place in Geneva. The negotiations are not expected to yield major results, except perhaps to open up certain parts of Syria to the delivery of humanitarian aid, which has been long denied.

Iran’s participation has been a subject of intense diplomatic wrangling for several weeks. Mr. Ban and Mr. Brahimi have insisted that Iran, given its considerable influence over the Assad government, should be part of the negotiations. So has the Syrian government’s other major ally, Russia.

The United States has long been wary of Iran’s intentions. Tehran has been one of the Assad government’s staunchest political and military supporters, sending arms to Damascus and encouraging Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, to join the fight on the side of Mr. Assad.

As recently as last Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry complained that Iran was, effectively, a belligerent in the conflict.

“Iran is currently a major actor with respect to adverse consequences in Syria,” Mr. Kerry said. “No other nation has its people on the ground fighting in the way that they are.”

On Sunday, Ms. Psaki added in her statement, “We also remain deeply concerned about Iran’s contributions to the Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own people, which has contributed to the growth of extremism and instability in the region.”

Iran’s inclusion has the potential to turn the Syria peace talks into a platform for intensifying Middle East conflicts. Also represented will be Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival.

Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Iran’s presence “seems to widen the circle of regional involvement.” But he also noted that Iran and the United States could be expected to hold diametrically opposed views as to whether Mr. Assad must give up power.

“Given that Iranian forces and their Shia militias are deployed on the ground backing up Assad, it means another Assad backer will be present at this meeting,” Mr. Tabler said.

Syria’s political opposition said in a Twitter message that it would not attend unless Mr. Ban withdrew Iran’s invitation.

“The Syrian coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva 2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation,” the Twitter message said, quoting Louay Safi, a coalition spokesman.

The ultimatum came just a day after the coalition, facing a boycott by a third of its members, had voted to send a delegation to the peace talks. The opposition has been under intense international pressure, including from the United States government, to participate.

Mr. Ban said Sunday that he had spoken extensively with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening-day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June, 2012, Geneva communiqué,” Mr. Ban said.

“Foreign Minister Zarif and I agreed that the goal of the negotiations is to establish by mutual consent a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” he added. “It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.”

Somini Sengupta reported from New York, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.


Posted on on November 11th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



Trophy touches down in Israel and Palestine Sunday 10 November 2013
Trophy touches down in Israel and Palestine

© Getty Images

The FIFA World Cup Trophy has been steadily making its way around the globe through the planned 90 countries, and having just completed its Caribbean tour, it has now landed in the Middle East for the first time.

Bringing the joy of football to the region, FIFA together with Coca-Cola have brought the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour to Israel and Palestine for two days, before heading off to Jordan. Accompanying the trophy for this trip is special guest, former FIFA World Cup™ participant and Argentina national team player and coach Gabriel Calderon. He will be with the trophy through all the local activities that the tour is planning for the coming two stops, where kids from schools, universities and local football clubs will have the opportunity to experience the magic of most powerful symbol in world football.

“I think it’s extremely important that every child gets the same opportunities to enjoy the world’s game. Playing regularly when I was young is what shaped me into the player I turned out to be,” Gabriel said as he arrived in Israel for his first stop. “I am extremely honoured that I have been asked to be part of the tour, and especially to visit this historical region, as it is a cause I truly believe in, and I am happy to play my part.” added the former Argentina star.

Joining Gabriel on the tour in Palestine and Jordan is FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein who is very excited to be welcoming the trophy to his home for the first time.

I think it’s extremely important that every child gets the same opportunities to enjoy the world’s game.
Gabriel Calderon, former Argentina midfielder and coach

The situation in the Middle East has prompted a mandate to be received by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during the 63rd FIFA Congress. This mandate was brought about by several years of conflict and unrest, making it challenging to improve and develop the game, and as part of FIFA’s statutes to develop the game. The President took this matter to heart to ensure that everyone has equal access and opportunities to play football, and the tour is another sign of the commitment which FIFA and its Partners have outlined to develop the sport in the Middle East.

A special FIFA Task Force, chaired by the FIFA President, was created with the aim to help improve the situation of football in Palestine and Israel, more specifically to analyse different bilateral matters including facilitating the movement of players, referees and equipment in and out of and within Palestine. The ultimate objective is to improve the situation of football in the region, particularly so that FIFA can implement its mission of developing and promoting the game in accordance with the FIFA Statutes.

As a result of the historical meeting, the football associations of Israel and Palestine will implement a mechanism under the umbrella of FIFA that will facilitate the movement of persons and goods. This mechanism includes the modalities and notification requirements as well as the appointment of liaison officers within each association. A meeting will be held under the auspices of FIFA within four months to assess the level of cooperation, with a view to signing a memorandum of understanding at the 2014 FIFA Congress.

To find out more about the stops, the stars and the trophy, visit the official trophy tour’s Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.

FOLLOWING THE 2014 SERIES IN BRAZIL – the home of World Soccer...

Those that qualified for the 2014 games are:

Iran is thus the only Middle East State (or World Cup team – this being different as England is a player rather then the UK) to participate in Brazil.  Israel had to play in the European preliminaries as it is impossible to match it with an Arab State.



Posted on on October 30th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

The article we looked at is at:…

Then today’s Opinion Column by Roger Cohen:… that starts:

” DUBAI — Here’s how the Saudis see it: President Obama has sold out the Syrian opposition, reinforced President Bashar al-Assad after having called for his departure, embarked on a dangerous duet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, played the wrong cards in Egypt, retreated from initial criticism of Israeli settlements that promised a more balanced American approach to Israel-Palestine, tilted toward the Shiites in the growing regional Sunni-Shiite confrontation, and generally undercut the interests of the kingdom.”

Both columns seem to forget that the real world is not based on heart feelings – not even when at the helm of a country sits a 89 year old monarch.

Nevertheless, Cohen notes “The Saudis, of course, always talk a good line and are happiest when others — read the United States — do the heavy lifting for them.” So now the Saudis will have figure out for themselves what heavy lifting their oil money can do for them. That for a start.

Then he says: “”But it is over Iran that the Saudis are most exercised — and it is not the Iranian nuclear program that has them so upset. Rather, it is the idea that the pre-revolutionary relationship between Iran and the United States could somehow be revived, extending Iranian influence in the region and relegating Saudi Arabia to being, as it once was, the lesser party of America’s “twin pillar” policy in the region.

The Saudis have already watched with concern as the U.S. invasion of Iraq served Iranian interests; they see Iran’s influence and military presence growing in Syria. What they fear above all is an Iranian irredentism aimed at stirring up of the Shiite populations in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

It was not lost on Saudi Arabia that Rouhani wrote in The Washington Post in September that, “We must join hands to constructively work toward national dialogue, whether in Syria or Bahrain,” just a few days before Obama spoke at the United Nations of working to resolve “sectarian tensions” in Syria and Bahrain.

Nothing can set Saudi alarm bells ringing quite like that: U.S. and Iranian presidents speaking to each other on the telephone, having aired similar sentiments on Bahrain, where the Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy has engaged in fierce repression of an opposition led by members of the Shiite majority, which is pressing for broader rights and political inclusion.

It is hard to say whether Israel or Saudi Arabia is more anxious today over the possibility of an American-Iranian breakthrough. That possibility remains extremely remote. The right deal — one that prevents the Islamic Republic from going nuclear while drawing it back into the community of nations — is in the U.S. interest, but current Saudi fury is one measure of the difficulty and of a U.S. Middle Eastern policy that is falling short.“”

Trying to reach conclusions from above we observe:

(a) The Saudis are yet to announce officially to the UN that they give up their UN Security Council seat – and we ask why should they? Is it not much more forceful to let there an empty seat that they can fill whenever they decide to do so, and in the mean-time force the UN to start reviewing its procedures in order to have a way to handle such an unprecedented situation when a state does not participate for a longer period at the meetings?
The only precedent is a short time the Soviets left their UNSC seat empty and this led to the UN intervention in Korea. Ergo – keep an eye on the UN.

(b) The oil weapon has lost its power somewhat – so there are obvious repercussions when talking about the stand of Golf Community members.
The money weapon nevertheless has increased in value – so the Saudis and others of the Golf can still wield power.

(c) Everybody has a wish list and can tell the Saudis what to do – but after all the Saudis will find out that they know their self interests best.
So we expect that they will wake up to the reality that when it comes to confront Iran, the only strong power of the region they can rely on are the Israelis. The Israelis are the obvious opposing power to Iran and it would not be difficult to build an Israeli-Saudi practical alliance. It will start with the Saudis helping fund a Palestinian economy so the two sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – can be separated into two well defined States bound together with an Arab backed economy. With this as a start, it will be left to the Iranians to see the advantages of retreating to their own borders and leave the basically Sunni region to evolve without Shia interference.


UPDATED from an October 29, 2013 posting.



Allies in Revolt

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It is not every day that America finds itself facing open rebellion from its allies, yet that is what is happening with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. The Obama administration has denied there are serious problems. But there are clearly differences, some perhaps irreconcilable.

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Here’s a quick summary: Saudi Arabia and Israel are deeply worried about the Obama administration’s decision to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran — their mortal enemy. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are sore at President Obama’s refusal to become militarily involved in ousting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, in particular his decision not to respond with military strikes to Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Mr. Obama instead chose a diplomatic deal under which Syria’s chemical weapons would be dismantled.

The Saudis are also unhappy that Mr. Obama withdrew support for Hosni Mubarak, the deposed Egyptian president, and then worked with Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member who was elected to replace Mr. Mubarak but was later thrown out.

All three countries have resorted to threats and displays of pique to make their points. Saudi Arabia renounced a United Nations Security Council seat it had worked hard to win because, it said, the United States and the United Nations had failed to achieve a Mideast peace agreement or solve the Syria crisis, as if either objective could be easily delivered by America alone. Although it is hard to see how other countries like China and Russia would be better alternatives, Saudi officials have gone so far as to complain that they regard the United States as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security.

Meanwhile, Turkey, a NATO member, has said it would buy a long-range missile defense system worth $3.4 billion from China because China’s bid was lower than bids from the United States and Europe. The decision may also, however, have reflected Turkey’s annoyance with Mr. Obama’s Syria policy. (It’s a dumb deal, too, and Turkish officials now seem to be reconsidering it; China’s system will be hard to integrate with NATO equipment, thus undermining alliance defenses and Turkey’s.)

As for Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing his best to torpedo any nuclear deal with Iran, including urging Congress to impose more economic sanctions on Iran that could bring the incipient negotiations between Iran’s new government and the major powers to a halt.

Much of this anger at the United States is driven by a case of nerves. The Arab Spring uprisings shook the old order, plunged the region into chaos, created opportunities for Iran to expand its influence in Syria and Iraq and threatened to worsen the Sunni-Shiite divide. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-majority country, in particular, fears an American rapprochement with Shiite-majority Iran.

But Mr. Obama’s first responsibility is to America’s national interest. And he has been absolutely right in refusing to be goaded into a war in Syria or bullied into squandering a rare, if remote, chance to negotiate an Iranian nuclear deal.

In addressing the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama reinforced his intention to narrow his regional diplomatic focus to the Iranian nuclear deal and an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Some have read this as weakness and retreat, rather than pragmatism. We wish he had put more emphasis on Egypt and Iraq. But his priorities make sense. His task now is to reassure the allies that the United States remains committed to their security.


Also, the Iraqi leadership comes to Washington to ask to buy arms – this while having done nothing about uniting their country or alternatively letting it sub-divide to its three components – Shiia – Kurds – Sunni. Without this first Iraq will turn into another Syria with the Maliki, a Shiia,  government trying to surpress its Sunni and Kurdish minorities. What should the US President do? He clearly does not want to step back into the Iraqi morass that his predecessor has created.



Posted on on August 28th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

According to Al-Monitor:

“UN Leader’s Visit to Israel Shows Waning US Influence in Mideast.”

By: Ben Caspit for Al-Monitor Israel Pulse Posted on August 23.

While on a visit to Israel on Aug. 15-16, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held some interesting talks, receiving the red carpet treatment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who oversees the slow yet chanceless negotiations with the Palestinians.

I would like to suggest to you not to talk about the settlements, Livni told Ban. At around that time, Israel was issuing new tenders for construction in the territories, mainly in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs. Ban wanted to know why. Since your position on this issue is well-known, Livni replied, I would propose that you do not talk about it at this particular time. According to her, any statements to that effect at this juncture would only render the negotiations harder, forcing Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to say something harsh, which could perhaps then undercut the possibility of progress. Abu Mazen cannot come off as more moderate than the UN. He, too, faces an opposition.

Livni explained to Ban how sensitive the situation was, imploring him not to make the same mistake the Americans had made during US President Barack Obama’s first term. Back then, the administration put Abu Mazen on a high horse from which one cannot dismount peacefully. You can only fall off, and they left him to his own devices. Finally, the negotiations resumed, she told him, and the future of the settlements will have to be determined in the bilateral discussions. That’s why at this point it’s better to be smart than right and leave the talking to us (the recent sentences are my own interpretation.)

Livni adopted the same approach when the discussion touched on the Palestinian prisoners-murderers whom Israel had released just two days earlier. What I would like to suggest to you, she said, is not to issue a statement in support of the release. When the secretary-general wanted to know why, she explained to him that some 85% of the Israeli public was opposed to the release. If you find out what those people were convicted of, you would understand too. No other country in the world would have released such prisoners. This is an open Israeli wound. This move is hard for everyone, myself included, mainly because Israel did not get anything real in return.

In other words, Livni suggested to Ban that he let the Israelis and Palestinians run their own affairs without interfering by making unnecessary statements. When all is said and done, the peace treaties that Israel signed with the Arabs — Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians in Oslo — were always accomplished through direct negotiations between the parties without involvement, interference, pressure or threats. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made such a strategic decision and executed it, and the same is true of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The world can only stand in the way. Whenever the world meddled, wielded pressure or lectured, it all came crashing down.

Then, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn. That was interesting, too. Netanyahu is a weak prime minister, a failed manager and a controversial leader. However, when it comes to public diplomacy he is unmatched. Having studied Ban, he knew exactly how to strike a chord with him.

Netanyahu presented Ban the ongoing Palestinian incitement against Israel that comes across from the Palestinian curriculum which continues to call for Israel’s obliteration from the face of the earth, while describing Jews as “monkeys and pigs,” etc. Then it was time for [Prime Minister Netanyahu] Bibi to get to the punch line. The prime minister compared the Palestinian campaign of incitement and lies against Israel to North Korea’s unending and unbridled incitement against South Korea. Bibi had a long list of examples which left the secretary-general dumbfounded.

Then, as was to be expected, Bibi proceeded to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. He drew a similar comparison to North Korea, or, to put it more precisely, to North Korea’s nuclear project. Netanyahu masterfully delineated the similarities between Iran’s nuclear program and that of North Korea. The latter didn’t give a hoot about the world or the United States, until South Korea woke up one morning only to find out that its neighbor to the north has a nuclear bomb.

In that case, too, the world believed that diplomacy could postpone or do away with the bad news — a belief which proved to be baseless. When Netanyahu switched over to the Iranian nuclear project, he let Ban understand how dangerous Iran is to world peace — not just to Israel. He explained to the secretary-general how messianic Iran’s leadership is and how it is guided by radical religious edicts. The Iranians must not be allowed to do what the North Koreans did, Netanyahu said. Iran is a huge country with immense oil deposits and high capabilities. Such a country cannot be isolated the way the West has isolated North Korea. A nuclear Iran will exact a heavy price from the world — a price it cannot afford.

The comic relief in the meeting between Ban and Netanyahu took place when the Israeli premier started talking about “construction in the settlements.” Most of the construction takes place in Jerusalem — Israel’s capital. It is carried out in places that everyone understands will remain in Israeli hands even in the settling of a final status arrangement, Netanyahu explained. For example, we build in Gilo, which is a neighborhood in Jerusalem across the Green Line, the premier explained. Then took the UN secretary-general to the window and pointed out the neighborhood. Can you possibly imagine that we won’t be able to build here, a place you can see from the prime minister’s office? Bibi asked.

Fortunately, Ban is not familiar with Jerusalem.

On the one hand, Bibi is right. The Palestinians know all too well that Gilo will remain in Israeli hands even in the settling of a final status arrangement. On the other hand, you cannot see Gilo from the prime minister’s office. What Bibi showed Ban is the Israel Museum, which is not too far from his office. But Ban is from South Korea. As far as he is concerned, the Israel Museum can represent Gilo, can’t it?

Incidentally, Ban did not hear anything substantially different from the leader of the opposition, Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich (chairwoman of the Labor party). When it comes to these issues, there is a consensus in Israel.

Later during his visit, it felt like the UN secretary-general had listened closely to what the Israeli leadership had said to him in that room. His statements sounded relatively mellifluous to Israeli ears.

I would assume that Ban is well-aware of the fact that the only capital in the Middle East where he can move about freely nowadays — without the fear of being targeted by rockets, car bombs, chemical missiles, mass demonstrations or other similar perils — is Jerusalem. He cannot do this in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Tripoli or Sanaa. Even Amman is not what it used to be. By way of comparison, Jerusalem and Ramallah are a paradise of leisure, although this is temporary, too. In the Middle East the tables can turn in a matter of a split second.

Since I last described here in Al-Monitor the relative quiet in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Israel was hit by rockets fired at Eilat on Aug. 13 (which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system) and at the Western Galilee on Aug. 22 (likewise intercepted). On Aug. 19, 25 Egyptian policemen were executed by armed militants in Rafah in the Sinai, a car bomb exploded in Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s Dahiyeh quarter in Beirut on Aug. 15 and the Syrian regime killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians in a chemical attack in east Damascus on Aug. 21.

Whenever we think that the Middle East has hit rock bottom, we hear heavy pounding from below, and then it turns out that hitting rock bottom is still quite a ways away. There’s one truth, however, that’s emerging right before our eyes: The West is losing control over the events. Western deterrence is already nonexistent. The days when everybody would hold their breath waiting for the daily press briefing from the White House are long gone. US President Barack Obama has made a mockery of himself, so much so that nobody really cares about what America thinks, says or does.

This is best illustrated when drawing a comparison between the events in Cairo and Syria. The Americans had long ago set a “red line” for Syria, namely the use of chemical weapons.

However, when a high-ranking Israeli intelligence officer revealed that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, the Americans gagged, got muddled, denied and ultimately confirmed this. Preposterously enough, they announced that “there might have been a possibility” that the Syrian regime had indeed masterminded the recent chemical attack in Damascus. Great. If that’s the case, what will you do? Nothing, it seems.

I’m not calling on the Americans to act in Syria. If I were the US president, I would not intervene in Syria no matter what. Anyone in his right mind has to steer clear from that. Intervention in Syria would pay off and be deemed legitimate only if it were supported by the entire international community. Since this is not going to be the case, there’s no point in goading this or that sheriff to hold the reins in Syria. The world has to come to terms with the new reality: You cannot avert every horror across the globe. Using moral principles, it’s very hard to decide between two similar devils — such as the warring factions in Syria.

It is against this backdrop that the Western conduct in connection with Egypt is becoming more perplexing. My friends, when will it dawn on you that what the Egyptian army is trying to do is to prevent replicating the harrowing reality in Syria? The nonsense of Western democracy and values are unsuitable for societies that still enslave women, minorities and weak castes.

The Americans placed their bet on the Muslim Brotherhood two years ago and now they find it hard to accept that they bet on the wrong horse. The Egyptian public doesn’t want “the brothers” to dictate their life, laws and customs. In Egypt, there are no checks and balances as one would find in a true democracy, at least not for now. So the only way of coping with the events is to determine that having the Egyptian army take control for a transitional period and disperse the riots with force is better than the alternative.

What’s the alternative? That’s simple. The alternative is an armed gang that takes 25 plainclothes men off two minibuses, forces them to lie on the ground and shoots all of them — one by one — to death in broad daylight. This is the face of radical Islam, of which all of us — regardless of religion, sex, color, race or nationality — should be afraid of.

Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.


Posted on on August 24th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

The reach of human compassion!

And from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine:

If you have California Bay Area friends, do tell them that rabbis Arthur Waskow, Phyllis Berman, and Lynn Gottlieb will be co-leading parts of the High Holiday services with me in Berkeley. The spiritual work we do at our service (which is not a performance but a deep inner process that incorporates as well as the key elements of the traditional service) is not just for Jews or for believers in God, but for anyone ready to engage in spiritual transformation.

Please urge them to check it out at… ].

On Yom Kippur, during the Yizkor service, we will also do some grieving for the victims of the Egyptian coup (but also for those killed by Morsi’s regime), for the Syrians killed in their civil war, and for all the other victims of violence in our world. And we will be mourning for the earth as more of its species and more of its life force continue to get violently assaulted by the globalization of selfishness, materialism, and corporate rapaciousness.


Posted on on August 16th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Thanks to Olympic lifting by US Secretary of State John Kerry, with perhaps some secret help from the EU, finally direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were started in Jerusalem this past Wednesday. Right immediately, the day after, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeared in the region to remind the two sides that the UN was also part of that now inactive Quartet were the fourth player is Russia – a clear structure built for inaction. Just think what the UN has achieved in all other miserable places in the Middle East – this like Syria, Lebanon, and now fast moving Egypt.

In Syria there is already a number for the dead well above 1.000,000 and in Egypt, without large efforts, that number can be surpassed. So, the UN Secretary General comes to the place that is these days the most peaceful in the region and marks territory.

It is just possible, that behind closed doors, the Israelis and the Palestinians of the West Bank under the Abbas leadership, may indeed be planning an agreement in order to avoid the ISLAMIZATION that is killing the region. It is in the best interest of the two sides to compromise behind closed doors and allow for a process of normalization and economic Sustainable Development in the spirit of the 21st Century to be presented later to the World at large. This clearly without the need of bickering sessions at the UN. No problem – when we reach that stage, the UN will be allowed to bless on the final agreed results. But the UN is no place to obtain any practical results.


Israeli Defense Minister to UN Sec. General: ‘The Only Stable Thing in the Middle East is the Lack of Stability’

August 16, 2013
Reports Zach Pontz

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon meets separately with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, August 15, 2013.

Then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met Friday August 16th in Jerusalem with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and warned him of the dire security situation in the region.

“The only stable thing in the Middle East is the lack of stability,” Ya’alon said.

He added that Lebanon based terror group Hezbollah was Iran’s main weapon against Israel, and warned Ban that the Israeli government has detected Hezbollah activity near Israel’s northern border, in violation of UN Resolution 1701.

“This organization is a state within a state. They get weapons from Iran and Syria,” he said.

“I think today everybody understands that the root cause of the instability in the Middle East and beyond has to do with the convulsion that is historic and cultural in nature of which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is merely one of many, many such manifestations,” said Netanyahu.

Ban thanked Netanyahu for his effort to restart peace talks, saying, “I’m here to urge all the leaders to continue along the path to peace and to underscore a shared commitment to walk together to make 2013 a decisive year for Israel-Palestinian peace and peace in the region.”

During his meeting with Ban, Peres also addressed the security situation in the region within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Authority peace talks.

“Peace is a real need for both parties, none of us have an alternative. The overall situation in the Middle East is quite bleak and if we can achieve an agreement between us and the Palestinians it is good news in a region that needs good news,” he said.


In the meantime – as reported by Avi Issacharoff – the same day:

In Egypt – The military claims that armed Muslim Brotherhood supporters opened fire on the soldiers, killing close to 50 and injuring dozens more. Each side recruited the television channel that supports its agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood was backed by Qatar’s al-Jazeera, which broadcast pictures of corpses and injured protesters in an endless loop, while al-Arabiya, which is funded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which support the Egyptian military, screened a video of supposed Muslim Brotherhood activists wearing masks and firing at unseen targets.

As expected, the bloodshed was condemned by prominent figures in the Arab world and by various political parties in Egypt. Leaders such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh — former Egyptian presidential candidate, and a former Muslim Brotherhood activist in his more distant past — who strongly opposed Mohammed Morsi while he was president, criticized the army and their excessive use of violence. Representatives of the extremist al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya organization, the al-Wasat Party and countries such as Qatar, Turkey and Iran, condemned the Egyptian military as well. And to top it all, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who was one of the first to stand by the military when protests against Morsi began on June 30, submitted his resignation.

The war for Egypt’s future has returned to international headlines and the Muslim Brotherhood is now demanding that el-Sissi be removed from power in order to restore peace. It is highly unlikely, though, that this will happen any time soon. Right now, Egypt is headed towards the unknown.

The days of Mubarak’s trial-and-error policies and mixed messages are over.

The army has entered a new era of all-out war against Islamic forces in Sinai and against the tunnels connecting the peninsula to Gaza, while at the same time, it is exerting force against the Muslim Brotherhood inside Egypt. The problem is that there are limits to the force and violence that can be applied, as the situation in Syria underlines. The Syrian army has been unable to suppress the opposition against Bashar Assad even as the death toll exceeds 100,000. Unlike in Syria, though, large portions of the Egyptian population support the military’s harsh policies.

Even as violence continues throughout Egypt, the army continues its efforts to destroy Jihadist headquarters in Sinai. Egyptian armed forces attack from the air and the ground and have managed to hit dozens of targets in the last week alone. The problem is that the number of armed activists that identify with al-Qaeda’s ideology is estimated at 3,000. It will be a long time before the Egyptian army will be able to declare victory in Sinai.

In Lebanon – Any four-year-old kid in Lebanon, and certainly in the Shi’ite community, knows who was responsible for Thursday’s attack in Hezbollah’s Dahieh stronghold of Beirut that killed at least 18 people. You don’t need to be an intelligence operative or a Middle East analyst to recognize that extremist Sunni groups operating as part of the Syrian opposition made good on their promise to strike at Hezbollah and its supporters on their home turf.

This was a response to the dominant involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting against the rebels in Syria. On Thursday evening, the “Brigade of Aisha” even issued a statement of responsibility to make it crystal clear to Hezbollah why it carried out the car bombing.

Yet despite this, a whole host of Lebanese politicians, not all of them Sh’iites, rushed to charge that Israel was involved – allegations ridiculous and in Lebanon too are considered an insult to the intelligence — even when they come from President Michel Suleiman, who claimed that the blast bore the fingerprints of the Israelis, or from Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a Middle East’s great opportunists, who leveled similarly ridiculous charges.

These politicians, including Suleiman, are worried that an attack like this will prompt a particularly violent Hezbollah retaliation. In pointing the finger at Israel, they are trying to manufacture a common enemy for all Lebanese. Suleiman, who only days ago demanded the disarming of Hezbollah, understands that an attack like this in Dahieh could eventually lead to a complete takeover by the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon and a cleaning out of all pockets of opposition — be they Sunni extremists or rival politicians.

Like many in Lebanon, Suleiman recognizes that the Syrian civil war, which has intermittently seeped into Lebanon, escalated to a still more dangerous level for his country. It was notable that the internet site of Hezbollah’s TV station Al-Manar was quick to publicize comments by the organization’s number 2, Naim Kassam, who said that Israel is deterred from confrontation with Hezbollah “and checks itself before risking any aggression against us.” This was Hezbollah telling all those politicians, and its own people, that, no, Israel isn’t the problem right now.

So, again, the UN Secretary-General is in Israel to mark Territory, but what has he done to bring attention AND ACTION to the problems of Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt – did he campaign in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to get them to stop pushing Islamic extremism?

Also, in Nairobi, Kenya, an airport fire took place on the anniversary of twin blasts at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people in 1998.

Kenya has also seen terror targeted at Israelis. In 2002, terrorists blew up an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 13, and launched an unsuccessful attack on an Israeli plane departing from the airport there.

In May of this year, two Iranians were jailed for life for planning massive bombing attacks on Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Kenya. Defense lawyers claimed that Israeli security official interrogated the two while in Kenyan custody. Kenya and Israeli security agencies have a long history of cooperation, dating back to the Entebbe hostage crisis in 1976.


Posted on on August 10th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Tunisia and the divided Arab Spring.
Giuseppe Merone 9 August 2013

Mutual fear may prevail and the use of force be felt necessary. Exactly this plays into the hands of the parasites inside the apparatus who are busy transforming themselves into a self-governing body within the state (especially the Interior Ministry) that can exploit, if not directly manipulate, such contradictions.

On July 25, Mohamed Brahimi, the Nasserist leader of the opposition party ‘The People’ (chaab) was assassinated. He is the second Tunisian political leader to be killed after the removal of former dictator Ben Ali. It happened in the environs of the capital city, Tunis, near his house and with the same weapon used to kill Chokri Belaid, the first victim of such a terrorist act. According to the initial security communiqué this was planned and carried out a similar manner to the previous one, six months before. If the first assassination on February 6 left many questions hanging in the air, this time it left a strong feeling that someone was calculatedly planning such actions with a specific political strategy in mind. This was if anything confirmed by later events, in which eight soldiers were killed in an ambush during their patrol in the frontier region of Mountain Chaambi.

Since the beginning of July, in the aftermath of the deposing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, tension has risen amongst Tunisia’s governing parties, fearing an attempt to sabotage the only ‘successful Arab spring democratic transition’. The opposition has been trying since then to replicate the Egyptian scenario. The Popular Front, the Marxist-Pan Arabist alliance to which Chokri Belaid belonged, demanded an immediate and total dissolution of the government and the Constituency Assembly, working together with the newly-created group of Tamarrod Tunisia (inspired by the anonymous group that triggered the mobilization in Egypt). After some holding of its breath, the governmental camp was initially reassured by the reaction from Tunisian society at large, which seemed skeptical about the Egyptian scenario.

The many differences between Tunisia and Egypt are significant: since the beginning, a constitutional path has been chosen in Tunisia, which created an elected Constitutional Assembly in order to draft a new constitution; in this assembly the Islamist party procured 41% of the members and so needed a larger coalition in order to run the government; the Islamist party elected, Ennahda, chose to work in coalition with the two main secular parties (CPR and Ettakatol). Despite this important difference, in Tunisia as in the rest of the Arab world, a new era of conflict was ushered in by the Arab Spring; a huge hegemonic change is under way with the coming to power of Islamic parties and the marginalization of both the former nationalist parties and the democratic secular camp.

Tunisia went through its highest point of tension six months ago, before the dramatic developments unfolded in Egypt. In the aftermath of the assassination of the leftist leader, Belaid, an emotional wave of spontaneous demonstrations packed the public spaces throughout this country. It appeared to many, even those not much engaged in politics, that the Ennahda party must have had some responsibility. The crisis was survived though, and the ruling troika showed great flexibility in accepting change in all the strategic ministries – Interior, Justice and Foreign Affairs – with the introduction of neutral technocrats in top positions. From those in power the political message was: “we are ready to make concessions” on condition that the legitimacy of the elected government will be respected. They made it clear that any move aimed at overthrowing elected institutions and the constitutional transition process would be considered a coup d’etat.

However, in successive months, criticism of the government has continued. The main preoccupation has become the security situation of the country and the threat of terrorism. Heightened tensions returned between April and May when several mines exploded in the Chaambi mountain, on the border with Algeria (the same area where eight soldiers were killed last week). The reaction of the security apparatus was amateurish, giving contradictory statements and showing the IDs of alleged suspects later identified by the press as individuals who had died years ago. These developments provoked increasing unease in some Tunisians, and in others, further skepticism at the elite power play known to be occurring in certain spheres.

The assassination of Mohamed Brahimi was interpreted by many as resulting from the same political strategies and splits that were behind Chokri Belaid’s assassination. The Nasserist leader had been a strong supporter of the ‘Egyptian solution’, speaking out loud publically and even engaging in polemics with his own party when it disagreed with some of his declarations. He denounced ‘the infiltration’ of Islamic elements in his party. The political process became destabilized as a result of this loss of common ground and the clash of conflicting ideological orientations that ensued. For the opposition there was clear responsibility on the part of the government; many suspect the direct implication of Ennahda, accused of creating a ‘parallel apparatus’ inside the security system aimed at dealing with their political opponents. For the government camp the responsibility belongs to the ‘deep state’ motivated by a counter-revolutionary strategy and supported by prominent ‘liberal’ and ‘leftist’ secular leaders, bitter about their marginal role in the elected government. Yet others have accused the salafist-jihadis, though their direct responsibility has yet to be established. For all parties, this is a ‘terrorist attack’, but attributed by the press and the Interior Minister to an ‘isolated takfirist group’ with foreign involvement. Interestingly, there is common ground between the salafist and secular opposition analyses, both of whom berate the government for scapegoating and instrumentalizing the salafi component as a way of avoiding exposing the truth behind the assassinations.

These opposing views of the political situation are key to understanding the evolution of the political situation in Tunisia. The main contenders (Islamist and anti-Islamists) don’t trust each other, and the suspicions may turn into open conflict if events further exacerbate this divide.

The political situation could evolve in either of two directions. One option is that a new form of mediation is found, but that the institutions created by the transition process (the Assembly and the three presidencies – of parliament, of the Republic and the government) are preserved in order to finish the drawing up of the constitution in the next three to four weeks. In this case a new road map must be decided in common with the opposition parties and a precise date for the election must be assigned before the end of the year, as well as giving convincing guarantees to the opposition that such a clear electoral process is under way. Alternatively, tension may grow and further terrorist acts may lead to chaos with the dissolution of the assembly, the cessation of the transition process and the creation of a Salvation government led by a special committee of technocrats committed to a new draft of the constitution. This would be a scenario very similar to the Egyptian one, with the significant difference that, at least until now, the Tunisian opposition has looked unlikely to have the strength to bring an important mass of protesters onto the street.

The evolution of the political situation therefore in a sense depends upon the degree of trust that the process is able to generate between the various actors. Three factors may be the most influential in determining the direction this takes: the first is the willingness of Ennahda to share power; the second is the social and economic situation; and the third, the regional and geopolitical context.
Where Ennahda draws the line

The most common complaint lodged by the opposition camp against Ennahda and the coalition in power (Troika) is their unwillingness to share power. Ennahda and its allies have as their sole aim the ‘monopoly’ of power, they aver; and even the way the Government resists a government of ‘technocrats’ is proof that the only thing they care about is staying in power for as long as it takes to eventually enforce a new authoritarian political system. For their part Ennahda insists that it is willing to share power, pointing for proof to the formation of its coalition government with two secular parties, including a large majority in the Assembly. They do reject the prospect of a technocratic government because they interpret it as an attempt by the opposition to outmanoeuvre a government that fully respects the political balance determined by the electoral outcome. They agree on the need to form a larger coalition including all the parties in the assembly, each contributing according to their electoral weight. Yet they point to the stonewalling of the opposition parties in relation to their overtures to this end.

If Ennahda’s argument is to be believed, this still does not entirely explain the capacity the opposition have had until now to threaten its stability and question its legitimacy. This has to be explained more in terms of the struggle for hegemony that has been taking place than on the election result. The modern state of Tunisia was, more than the other states in the region, founded on the basis of a radical secular vision of modernity. Its middle class, educated by an educational programme that lauded the rational virtues of the western heritage and minimized the importance of achieving compatibility between modernity and the religious and Arab patrimoine. This framing of national identity has not taken hold to the same extent for the popular masses of the people. The proof is that on average Tunisians were willing to vote in a party that referred to Islam as the basis for its principles.

However, Tunisian ‘laicité’ is an ideology firmly rooted in the apparatus of the state, first of all in the bureaucracy that constituted the backbone of the former Bourghibian party (those who propagate Tunisian nationalism – Tunisianité – and constitute a clear political and sociological interest group). The same middle class also produced critics of this model – not in its basic principles, but in its acceptance of the authoritarian regime. Those belonging to the first category today are divided between Nidaa Tunis, led by the Bourghibian Caied Essebsi, and isolated groups of interests that still exist inside the state apparatus and feel themselves threatened by the new ‘revolutionary’ scenario. The first group is often defined as the ‘Bourghibians’, meaning the ones who believed in the national modernist project, who are ready to fight to prevent the country falling in the hands of a ‘backwards’ Islamic vision of the world. The second element consists of the ex-regime parasites who exploited power under Ben Ali’s regime through the opportunistic system of patronage. The critics of authoritarianism, also stemming from the same middle class, are however more ‘democratic’ and have developed over recent decades a secular appreciation leading to their opposition to dictatorship. But they share the same vision of modernity and may be willing to support a repressive action in order to deal with what they consider the ultimate threat, Islamists.

These positions can all be traced back to the beginning of the 1990’s, when Ben Ali started a repressive campaign against Islamists, carried out with the support of a large part of this ‘modernist’ and ‘democratic’ middle class. The main challenge for any Islamic party nowadays is not only to win elections, but to convince this core state constituency that they have a stake in and may be integrated into the construction of a post-revolution nation, without threatening its highest values. Trust between these two highly contrasted social and political components can only be generated through each assuring the other of its good intentions. This trust-building exercise is especially vital in such a transition from dictatorship to democracy, a period in which it is only natural that the loser thinks that the winner will not give them another chance. This is an obligatory step if democracy is to be achieved. However, if the split gets more profound, the mutual fear may prevail and the use of force may be felt to be necessary. Exactly this latter recourse plays into the hands of the parasites inside the apparatus who are busy transforming themselves into a self-governing body within the state (especially within the Interior Ministry) that can exploit, if not directly manipulate, such contradictions.
Social and economic demands

When it comes to the second consideration, the social and economic situation, it is quite surprising how little attention this aspect receives from the analysts and commentators. The truth is that what is being analyzed in terms of ‘political events’ is largely down to the narrow categorisation of a small political elite. But participation in politics, up to the present day, is in fact quite marginal. There are practically no new political leaders thrown up by the revolution, and even the participation in the elections was pretty low (51%), and for many not exactly representative of a general public opinion (because of the ‘apolitical’ orientation of most of the voters). This means that the political struggle, as it might be understood in the sense of a liberal transition process from an authoritarian power to a democracy, is reliant on the same middle class we have just discussed, with the addition of the conservatives represented from this new power of Ennahdha.

While the elite contenders are struggling to gain hegemony or recognition from one another, trying to draw up a new shared social contract, most of the rest of the entire population is concerned with day-to-day realities, including the dramatic economic situation. The deep discontent which drives the situation is coming from an apolitical population that is desperately frustrated because of the deterioration in their standard of living. These social and economic problems were the reason why the former system collapsed, and it has already bequeathed to the successor nation a large section of society profoundly alienated from the country’s future development. As a result a generation of apolitical, but nonetheless actively engaged, youth has engaged in what has been called ‘street politics’. Amongst the most visible of these movements is the Ultras, the football supporters, organized in groups very popular among young people. This movement never misses an occasion to confront the police and to be a destabilizing element in an open conflict between the two political blocs, with the sole qualification that they themselves are more comfortable on whichever side can be considered at any one time as more anti-system.

Another important element in the self-expression of this disenfranchised youth is the jihadi-salafi movement. Though the movement is large (thousands of young people) – not all are really participating in the political struggle, with many so far concentrating on preaching or proselytizing to others (dawa). It is still the case that this movement, especially in its jihadi version, is very attractive to young people who have lost all their reference points (beginning with any chance of economic and social integration). That is why jihadi terrorism still has a chance to flourish in any situation in which the political transition leaves an institutional vacuum. Though there has not been until now any proof of the infiltration of terrorist groups into the Tunisian salafist movement, at each moment of tension the Interior Minister becomes increasingly shrill in voicing his suspicions and conspiracy theories. What is more important is that a factor such as the economic frustration of large segments of the people, may become an accomplice if the split in the political class deteriorates into outright confrontation, so that people’s desperation in the face of economic decline is transformed into a political consensus to overthrow the institutional process, such as has happened now in Egypt.
Regional moves and a divided spring

The third point concerns the new regional developments and its influence on the process. To understand this very crucial determinant it is first of all necessary to point out how the definition of the Arab Spring has changed and how it has become part of a rhetoric solely the preserve of the Islamists. The Islamists, and the part of the secular political class still in coalition with them, are the only ones who invoke the rhetoric of ‘freedom’. For them revolution still represents the sole opportunity for freedom and for democratization – a transition process driven by elections constituting the necessary means. To them, the new opportunities witnessed in Tunisian society today, whereby most people can show off their Islamic faith and their sense of belonging without inhibition (described by those who have taken fright at this as the ‘Islamization’ of Tunisia), is a precious step towards a new free society.

The opposition camp, consolidating its position in the light of the growing complications of the Syrian conflict and role of Tunisian jihadis within it, is built on a familiar Arab nationalist foundation, but also operates on the logic that ‘the enemy of my enemies are my friends’ – the enemies being those who oppose the ‘Islamization’ of the political and social process. They oppose the ‘occupation’ of public spaces by religious symbols and practice as a threat. They believe that Islamists in power within the institutions, and salafists gaining ground in the social sphere, are part and parcel of one strategy, aiming to establish a new backwards Islamic authoritarian system. They interpret the support of Qatar, Turkey, France and US for the Arab Spring as a big plot to keep the Arab countries enslaved to the west and avoid a true emancipation. They point to examples of a US administration that is harsh towards secular Arab nationalist presidents, while providing unconditional support to the Zionists (the Israeli state). Islamists in their Muslim Brotherhood version are, for them, the new ‘servants of the West’, with Qatar serving as the big puppet/proxy in the region, and Turkey as a neo-Ottoman imperialist country.

This explains in part why it is feasible that salafists and Arab nationalists may find themselves on the same side against the ‘Muslim Brotherhood plot’, as was the case in Egypt. When the struggle is anti-imperialist, they may form a concerted bloc. In the case of Tunisia, though, because the radical leftist anti-MB camp is comprised of a different political and social composition which is not especially anti-western or anti-Zionist, but rather primarily anti-Islamic, this coalition is less viable an option.

The landscape of the Arab Spring’s countries has increasingly divided into two very visible political orientations: Islamic and anti-Islamic. Both camps are made up of two ‘parties’ adopting a different degree of radicalism toward the anti-imperialist cause. The Islamist camp contains an appreciably greater range of animosity towards anti-imperialist causes, in also embracing those who cite Palestine and Algeria and argue that the west was never remotely interested in working with Islamists, or allowing any real democracy. But indeed we can safely say that that all these political parties or ideological orientations are wary of a certain western policy in the Middle East, especially when it comes to the Palestinian cause. On that subject alone, you will find no division between these two camps.

What is true, though, is that we may distinguish between a ‘moderate’ attitude on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood and the modernist camp in Tunisia; and a ‘radical’ stance on the part of salafists and Arab nationalists alike. And it is here that the geopolitical framework has played its part in providing each of these sides with a perceived ‘common enemy’. On the one hand, Qatar has become, since the beginning of 2000, an important centre for the propagation of the so-called ‘wasatiyya’. The famous Egyptian clerk, Youssef Qaradawi, has been living there for long time as a refugee, and has been given both academic and TV space (as the special host of Al-Jazeera’s religious programme shariaa wa hayat for some years) to ‘propagate’ the new idea of a moderate Islam (the word wasat in Arabic means centre, taken from a basic Koranic concept explaining that Islam is the religion of the centre, interpreted as ‘moderation’). This was in part prompted as a response to the terrible reputation Islam had acquired in the west after Bin Laden’s decade of terrorist acts, and in part by the larger geopolitical imperative on the part of the Al-Thani royal family to introduce a new policy of modernization (closer to that of the west). This was supported by the US, of course, until Qatar became – even militarily – a new strategic pawn in the regional policy of the US.

Qatar’s geopolitical pursuits must themselves be read in the wider context of the Arabic peninsula, in which Saudi Arabia is the biggest super-power, with Qatar historically feeling encircled. So this small country elaborated an intelligent policy to gain a larger piece of the action under the shadow of its big brother. Saudi Arabia, on the contrary was and still is very uncomfortable with this new bid for power, especially since it was based on an ideological-religious theorem seen as very dangerous to the survival of the Saudi royal family. The new ideology arose from the ‘democratic’ shift that occurred within the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. One must not forget that Saud’s family was very seriously under threat in the 1990’s from a reformist Islamic movement largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The new scenario created in the Arab Spring seemed to justify Qatar and certain American Democrat circles, which had placed their bet on a democratic evolution of Islamism which might be integrated into the larger democratization scenario of the region as a whole. Yet what was a victory for Qatar was a threat for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was very much on the defensive in the first year following the Arab Spring uprisings. This changed when it appeared that they could still find an ally in the region to balance against the overwhelming presence of the MB: the salafists. Salafism in its Wahhabist version of course (and not jihadi), were supported everywhere, even in Tunisia, in the classic manner; the financing of charitable and Koranic Wahhabit associations.

A further geopolitical actor, with an important influence on events in Tunisia, is Algeria (increasingly important since regional developments that included the French intervention in the northern regions of Mali and the supposed expansion of jihadi towards Libya). From Tunisia’s point of view there cannot be any solid base for its process of transition without having the solid support of its two Arab neighbours. This geopolitical factor emerged clearly enough during Libya’s rebellion against Gaddafi, supported logistically and politically by the new Tunisian Government.

From the perspective of Algeria, these evolving events appeared quite different. The Algerian government remained highly suspicious of the hidden intentions of the new Tunisian ‘revolutionary’ government: the Algerians feared a knock-on effect. Their skepticism only deepened when the Islamic party, Ennahda, took power, which seemed a real nightmare to them. Rached Ghannouchi (the Tunisian Islamic leader) was at the time of the civil war in the 1990’s in fact a good ‘friend’ of the Algerian Islamic FIS.

But after almost two years since those revolutionary events, the political climate has changed again, and now it is the fear of external interference that is largely mutual. Despite the exchange of official visits, the Islamic Tunisian party continues to suspect Algerian infiltration of conspiring to overthrow the Ennahda-led government, encouraged by regional developments in Egypt. Bouteflika, the Algerian president, could take advantage of the new Arab nationalist feeling abroad in the region and in Tunisia as well. He has come to be represented, in a line with Assad and the new strongman in Egypt, Sisi, as resistant to the western plot to overthrow the Arab nationalist governments. At the same time he has come to be seen as a saviour against the Islamist wave, and the one who ‘knows how to deal with terrorists’ (because of the experience of the civil war of the 1990’s). It has been pointed out many times in Tunisian public debate how important the Algerian experience was in the struggle against terrorism.

The Algerian press often intervenes in Tunisian debate to underline the Islamic danger coming from this side of the border. It is very likely that those in power in Algeria, especially at this sensitive systemic moment, in which the country is preoccupied with the imminent post Bouteflika transition, are concerned about jihadi or salafi infiltration. The fear on the Algerian side is of a repetition of the Syrian scenario. There are enough elements here coming together to make one take very seriously the role of this important neighbour, and its influence on the process going on in Tunisia.

The outcome of this most recent Tunisian crisis may tell us much about the future of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ and the democratization process of the country. If it is able to emerge from this dangerous minefield by relying on the institutional tools already in existence, this will be an important step forward. The consequence will be the development of a system that will start to believe in itself and be more confident in future conflicts in relying on the mechanism of state institutions. That is why it is so important that the state, with its apparatuses and institutions, ‘plays by the rules of the game’.

The transitional process in Tunisia has been until now exemplary, and despite the tensions and the social and economic crisis, it has shown itself well-suited to the country and its traditions. The Islamic option is still perceived as a threat by many, and Ennahda is still lacking a political hegemony (in the sense of conquering the elites). But what has emerged from the recent dramatic events, exacerbated by all the latest regional developments, is that obscure forces are trying to divert the accomplishments of the transition and crush all remaining elements of the myth of ‘The Arab Spring’. This is the moment for Tunisia to reveal itself as a true exception, and a model for the future of the other countries in the region.



Has the US decided that the leadership of the Arab world goes to Saudi Arabia?
By Zayd Alisa, 09 Aug 2013 10:59 pm Qatar’s new Emir swiftly congratulated the interim Egyptian president, Adly Mansour, who was appointed by the Egyptian army. This was in stark contrast to the fatwa issued on July 6, 2013 by Al… Read in full >>…

This includes in part -

“While it is incontestable that Qatar – headed by its previous Emir, Hamed bin Khalifa Al Thani and his Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Hamed Bin Jassim – was foremost in its unequivocal backing for the popular uprisings that swept the region, the bulk of its support went to propping up the MB. The Saudi regime, by contrast, has given its support to tyrannical regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. The Saudi king made frantic efforts to forestall the spread of the uprising to Saudi Arabia by offering billions of dollars in benefits, strictly prohibiting protests, rewarding the Wahhabi Salafi religious establishment and, most ominously, instructing the Saudi army to invade and occupy Bahrain.

What is indisputable is the pivotal role played by the radical and regressive Wahhabi Salafi religious establishment in giving religious legitimacy to the Saudi regime, which in turn provides it with the vital funding to propagate and export its violent ideology. According to the Wahhabi ideology it is strictly forbidden to oppose the ruler. Thus, in the Saudi regime’s eyes the MB’s explicit endorsement of political Islam, which underlines explicitly that legitimate rule can only stem from democratic elections, is an existential threat aimed at the very legitimacy of the Saudi King’s absolute power. Making matters even worse, Qatar had enthusiastically embraced and even offered citizenship to the influential and highly controversial spiritual leader of the MB, Yusuf Al Qaradawi.

As the protest in Syria became increasingly militarised, the Qataris ramped up their full-blown support to the MB. However, the Saudi regime has consistently considered the Syrian regime, since the days of the late, Hafiz Al Assad, Bashar’s father, a major thorn in its side and an irreplaceable strategic ally to its principal adversary Iran. The regime moved swiftly to shore up the armed insurgents by deploying its intelligence services, whose instrumental role in establishing and funding Jabhat Al Nusra (JN) was highlighted in an online intelligence review released in Paris in January 2013. The Saudi regime also used its huge influence and leverage on not only Sunni tribal leaders in western Iraq, but also on Saudi members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to convince AQI that its principal battlefield must be Syria and that its ultimate goal should be deposing Bashar Al Assad’s Alawite regime, since its overthrow would break the back-bone of the Iraqi Shia-led government and inevitably loosen Iran’s grip on Iraq.

Creating a new branch of Al Qaeda in Syria under the new label of ‘JN’, which was not yet designated a terrorist organisation, was not only an unmissable lifeline to AQI, on its back foot in 2011, but also it provided Saudi Arabia and Qatar with a window of opportunity to bolster AQI and JN and destabilise Syria and Iraq simultaneously, under the perfect pretext of supporting democracy in Syria. So AQI scrambled to send Abu Mohammed Al Jolani, in July 2011, to form JN, while Aymen Al Zawahri, the overall leader of Al Qaeda, instructed all of his fighters in February 2012 to converge on Syria.”


Posted on on June 22nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


Borowitz: 'After signing the agreement, the two men shook hands for the final time and scowled bitterly for photographers.' (photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Borowitz: ‘After signing the agreement, the two men shook hands for the final time and scowled bitterly for photographers.’
(photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama, Putin Agree Never to Speak to Each Other Again.

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

19 June 13


The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, “The Borowitz Report.”

he G8 summit ended today on a constructive note, with President Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin reaching a broad agreement never to speak to each other again.

“It’s better this way,” said Mr. Obama, frostily standing in the general vicinity of Mr. Putin for the last time ever. “We truly despise each other.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Mr. Putin, looking as though he had just smelled something bad. “My hatred of this man knows no bounds.”

According to the agreement, economic cooperation, cyber security, human rights, the war in Syria, and the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s missing Super Bowl ring are among thirty-seven different topics that the two men will never again discuss.

Additionally, at all future summits, if either Mr. Obama or Mr. Putin enters a room the other man will be obligated to leave immediately.

The two men reached agreement on an unprecedented number of points, including never contacting each other via telephone or e-mail and keeping a minimum of five hundred feet away from each other’s residences.

After signing the agreement, the two men shook hands for the final time and scowled bitterly for photographers.

+9 # Activista 2013-06-19 19:56

The joke:
Putin popularity is 64% in Russia .. steady
Obama popularity is 45% in the USA ..and sinking
If only Obama would get rid of Oligarchs (like Putin did in Russia ..) .. but as they say:
Do not bite the hand that feeds you …

Former NSA Analyst: Obama Was Wiretapped in 2004

By Alex Walsh, All Alabama // Vanity Fair

21 June 2013


ormer National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice says Barack Obama – at the time a candidate for U.S. Senate – was targeted by domestic surveillance operations run by the NSA in 2004.

Tice, who is said to have contributed to a 2005 New York Times story revealing details about domestic surveillance practices, recently spoke to the “Boiling Frogs Post,” an online news site run by Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds is a former FBI translator, and was herself part of a 2005 media feature about whistle blowing, this one composed by Vanity Fair.

Appearing on Edmonds’ show, Tice strongly hinted at the notion that he was asked to tap several phone lines used frequently by then-candidate Obama.

“This was in summer of 2004, one of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator for Illinois,” Tice said. “You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, D.C.”

Tice also spoke to The Guardian – which broke the news of Edward Snowden’s decision to leak sensitive surveillance documents – earlier this month about the breadth of American domestic surveillance.

“What is going on is much larger and more systemic than anything anyone has ever suspected or imagined,” he said.


US Promises Smooth Transfer of Quagmire From Afghanistan to Syria.

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

21 June 2013


The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, “The Borowitz Report.”

upporters of the United States’ twelve-year quagmire in Afghanistan cheered the news today that the U.S. would strive to achieve a seamless transfer of that quagmire to Syria, effective immediately.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to reassure those who were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan signalled a wavering of the nation’s commitment to being mired in open-ended military muddles.

“I can tell you, right here and right now, that the U.S. is every bit as determined to engage in an ill-defined, ill-advised and seemingly interminable mission in Syria as we were in Afghanistan,” Gen. Dempsey said. “All that’s changing is the Zip Code.”

General Dempsey said that the same tribal hatreds, sectarian violence, and untrustworthy alliances that made Afghanistan a quicksand-like morass are very much in evidence in Syria: “I am confident that we could be involved in Syria for many, many years before figuring out why we are there.”

Harland Dorrinson, executive director of the National Quagmire Institute, a think tank dedicated to promoting the United States’ involvement in intractable conflicts around the globe, said he found General Dempsey’s words about Syria reassuring: “I felt a lot better after hearing what he had to say, and I know a lot of defense contractors felt the same way.”


 Activista comment —-  June 21, 2013
Great satire – except General Dempsey/Pentagon refuses to attack Syria
General Dempsey emphasized that currently, the US forces are not in the position to open a new front in the Middle East while it’s soldiers are exhausted (from Afghanistan and Iraqi occupation), and the Pentagon is hit with budget cuts. Dempsey said that the demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome.
In a Turnabout, Syria Rebels Get Libyan Weapons {from el-Qaddafi’s stockpile thanks to US friend – Qatar.}


Weapons formerly in Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s stockpile are making their way to antigovernment forces in Syria, courtesy of Qatar, which has strong ties with Libyan rebel groups.


Posted on on June 8th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

On Peacekeeper Kidnaps, UN Says No Evidence of Involvement of “States”



By Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press -



UNITED NATIONS, June 7 — After at least three kidnappings  {kidnap events of} UN peacekeepers in the Golan, and then an attack that led Austria to decide to pull its troops out of the mission, the question of who is ultimately behind the attacks remains murky.


  On the afternoon of June 7 Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council for June, if there was any discussion of involvement from any outside state in the threats to peacekeepers. As in the morning, he said there had been no such discussion.


  In the General Assembly, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari read a cell phone number from an e-mail he said showed involvement from Qatar in the kidnappings of peacekeepers.


    He has said he provided information to UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous; Syria’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 4 said that Ladsous was investigating the Qatar claim.


  But at the UN in New York, they didn’t want to answer. On June 4, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky if Ladsous was, in fact, looking into it.

Nesirky said he would ask the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.


  Three days later on June 7, having gotten no response, Inner City Press repeated the question. Nesirky said again that he would check with DPKO, whose spokesman was in the briefing room, as Inner City Press reported. It was later indicated that an answer would come. And now it has:


Subject: Your question on Qatar
From: UN Spokesperson – Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 5:16 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]


Regarding your question on Qatar earlier today, below is the response from DSS and DPKO:


The United Nations has no evidence of any involvement by Member States or state actors in the abduction or detention of UN personnel in Syria. To our knowledge, the peacekeepers were detained by individual groups operating in Syria.


  One might find it strange that without answering the question asked on June 4 — was Ladsous’ DPKO looking into what Syria provided it on May 22 and conducting an inquiry as Syria requested, and on June 4 in Geneva said was being done — the UN now simply says it has no evidence.


  The answer also implies that the UN sees or accepts a distinction between “individual groups operating in Syria” and outside states: as if outside states didn’t arm and fund “individual groups” in Syria.


  But it may also be worth looking more closely at what is being answered: the UN says it has no evidence that Qatar as a “member state or state actor” is involved.


  What Ja’afari alleged in the General Assembly was that the Syrian opposition figure to whom Qatar “gave” Syria’s embassy in Doha was involved in the kidnapping. He is not a “state actor,” but Qatar’s support of him puts his alleged role in a different light.


  If one knew more about Ladsous, evidence of objectivity for example, perhaps there would not be so many questions. But when Ladsous confined news of the third kidnapping to a “conversation” with friendly reporters, it raises questions.


  So the question to be answered is: was the Syrian opposition figure to whom Qatar “gave” Syria’s embassy in Doha involved in any of the kidnappings? Did any e-mail received by UN officials in May reflect this? Has the UN done anything to look into or act on this since? 


Footnote: at the stakeout after Council consultations Russia’s Vitaly Churkin said his country is offering to replace the Austrian observers, but is checking to see if this would require a Security Council resolution as well as an amended agreed by Israel and Syria. A representative of Syria told Inner City Press, not surprisingly, they would agree.


In further information from the UN – a different source – it seems that UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, rulled that Russia, because it is a member of the P-5, is not allowed to send troops in a UN Peace-keeping mission. We wonder if this is in the Charter or just decided because the lack of a precedent. In any case – with Russia supplying arms to the Syrian government they are not fit to be on a neutral peace-keeping mission by simple logic.

Does Austria pull out because as a neutral State it is not ready to have its troops face Russia supported Syrian troops?



Posted on on May 9th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



As reported by Matthew Russell Lee from the UN, it seems that there is a Russian-American agreement to let Assad of Syria continue to fight his opposition as it seems that the Qatar, Arab Sunni proposal,leads to an Al-Qaeda domination in a post-Syria configuration. This might be what some Arab States want to happen, but it is totally unacceptable to the US and other States. Syria is doomed one way or another, and the new reality is that the US will not waste more energy on playing along Arab lines.


UNITED NATIONS, May 9 — On the pending Syria UN General Assembly resolution drafted by Qatar, Russia’s Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin has now written to all member states, opposing the resolution on procedure, substance and on the May 7 announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Kerry.


Inner City Press has obtained a copy of Russia’s letter and puts it online, here.


Please see Lavrov’s letter and realize that Syria is being moved to the backburners – even though it is clear that people will continue to be killed or driven into exile. No solution in Syria is now also clear reason for not pushing a Palestinian resolution either – all what we expect now is lot of empty noise.



Posted on on May 8th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


Iran, Israel Need to Talk About Syria
Meir Javedanfar for Al-Monitor
Kuwaiti Opposition Leader ‘Not Asking to Overthrow Regime’
Jamie Etheridge for Al-Monitor
Kurdish Group Gaining Autonomy in Northern Syria
Andrea Glioti for Al-Monitor
Jordan, Iran Agree on Need for Political Solution in Syria
Osama Al Sharif for Al-Monitor
Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite Divide About Governance
Harith al-Qarawee for Al-Monitor
Turkey-Israel: Toward a ‘Cold’ Normalization
Arad Nir for Al-Monitor
Hamas Slams Qatar, Arab League on Peace Plan
Mohammed Suliman for Al-Monitor


Posted on on May 5th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (



Canada’s Israel Support Draws Ire From Arab Nations at UN.

May 3, 2013 3:04 pm 3 comments



World headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, Canada. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Some Arab nations are making an effort to isolate Canada at the United Nations in retaliation for the Canadian government’s pro-Israel stance.

Qatar is working to gather votes from 115 countries to relocate the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which determines global rules for airplane transportation, from Montreal to the Middle East by 2016. In addition, Arab UN ambassadors met in New York on April 23 to discuss Palestinian issues, and discussed ways to rally support against the Canadian government among international organizations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is known for his staunch support of Israel and maintains a close relationship with the Israeli government. In April, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stoked Arab anger by meeting Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in eastern Jerusalem, an area where the Palestinians dispute Israeli jurisdiction.

Joseph Lavoie, a spokesman for Baird, said Canada will “fight tooth and nail” to keep the ICAO in Montreal. “Canada will not apologize for promoting a principled foreign policy,” Lavoie said, according to the Daily Globe and Mail.


Comment from Mel

The United Nations headquarters and its overfed diplomats have earned deportation to the Middle East.

The enemies of Western Civilization have not earned the right to enjoy its benefits.

New York and Montreal are too good for them.

Let’s find out how they like eating and swimming in sand!


Posted on on May 3rd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


The Arab League offers an improved proposal for peace in the Middle East, a welcome announcement.

One Step Forward

Published – The New York Times on-line: May 2, 2013 2 Comments

In any discussion of a negotiated peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, a crucial question involves what the Arab states would do.
On Tuesday, the Arab League reaffirmed its 2002 peace initiative and suggested that the proposal could be modified to bring it more in line with American and Israeli ideas.

The welcome announcement could be very significant. Arab leaders deserve credit for reviving the initiative, as does Secretary of State John Kerry for trying to reinvigorate some kind of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Mr. Kerry, calling the move a “very big step forward,” said it meant Arab leaders were offering a security arrangement for the region.

The Arab League initiative, approved by all Arab states but rejected by Israel 11 years ago, endorses a two-state solution while promising peace and normalization in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugees issue.

After a meeting on Monday with Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., Qatar’s foreign minister said the league had eased its demand that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Instead, the minister accepted the possibility of adjusting those borders with a comparable and mutually agreed “minor swap of land.” Israelis and Palestinians were close to a deal along these lines in 2008.

If there is ever to be a peace deal, Israelis will have to be persuaded that the Arab states, not just the Palestinians, accept their right to exist. And Palestinians will need to feel that the Arab states are behind them.

This is the first hopeful sign in a long time. But it soon ran into trouble from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who reacted coolly on Wednesday and questioned the fundamental idea of exchanging land for peace. “The root of the conflict isn’t territorial,” he told Israeli diplomats. “The Palestinians’ failure to accept the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict.”

On Thursday, he said any peace deal would be put to a referendum, which some experts say could be an obstacle. However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Mr. Netanyahu’s peace negotiator, welcomed the Arab proposal, as did Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, and other opposition politicians.

“Mideast peace” has become a throwaway line. But that goal is unquestionably the right course for the Israelis, Palestinians and an increasingly unstable region. Arab leaders, after standing on the sidelines for too long, have made a contribution by giving the two sides something to talk about. Now it’s up to the Israelis and Palestinians, working with the United States, to take it forward.


Arab Peace Initiative, take 2: Major development or ‘scam’?

  • Thursday, May 2, 2013
  • Iyyar 22, 5773

Could the amended formula for a two-state solution yield a breakthrough?
The consensual answer seems to be, ‘Maybe, but…’

By May 1, 2013, 9:16 pm 9
US Secretary of State John Kerry with Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, second from left, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, April 29, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, second from left, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, April 29, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In 2002, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon tasked his foreign policy adviser, Danny Ayalon, with further exploring the idea of the Arab League’s new peace initiative.

“He sent me to find out if the Saudis were serious,” Ayalon recalled recently, adding that he tried to arrange, through middlemen, a meeting with Adel Jubeir, an adviser to then-crown prince (now King) Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Earlier that year, Abdullah had proposed the plan, which seemed to offer Israel normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for territorial concessions, a formula for handling Palestinian refugee claims and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We almost met in a restaurant in Washington and at the last minute he didn’t want to meet,” Ayalon said of Jubeir. “We promised it would be under the radar, it would be very low-profile.” The Saudis reneged on the scheduled meeting, and the rest is history — Israel never formally responded to the offer.

Ayalon, who served as deputy foreign minister until earlier this year, said Jerusalem never warmed to the proposal because it was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no room for discussions. However, he said in early March, it could serve “as a basis for negotiations in the future, when conditions are much clearer here.”

Two months later, it is harder to argue that the peace initiative’s terms are written in stone. On Monday, the Arab League — which formally adopted the proposal at a March 2002 summit in Beirut — for the first time showed some flexibility in allowing that, to reach a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps could be possible.

After both Israeli and Palestinian leaders signaled a certain satisfaction with the Arab League’s move, it seems that a renewal of peace talks may be imminent. But would such talks actually stand a chance? Is the fact that the Arab League now seems to have wrapped its mind around the idea that Israel will never agree to fully withdraw to the 1967 lines enough to enable a breakthrough?

‘In a way, it puts the ball in Israel’s court. It is really now going to be up to Israel to respond to this in some way’

After all, the idea of mutually agreed land swaps has been around for more than a decade, and has been accepted, to varying degrees, by all parties involved. Also, the Saudi-inspired peace initiative asks for more than an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank; some of its demands are ostensible nonstarters for Israel’s newly elected government, such as returning to Golan Heights and dividing Jerusalem.

Still, “this is a significant development in several areas,” said Middle East expert and historian Joshua Teitelbaum. “In a way, it puts the ball in Israel’s court. It is really now going to be up to Israel to respond to this in some way, either through an initiative of its own or beginning to explore the peace process based on the positive aspects of the Arab initiative.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tacitly welcomed the steps to advance the peace process taken by the Arab League. “Israel is ready to start negotiations — anytime, anywhere — without any preconditions,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel Wednesday. Israeli politicians from the left and the center, ranging from opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) to cabinet members such as Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), were pleased with the renewed initiative and urged the government to see it as a real opportunity to advance the peace process.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who hosted the Arab League delegation in Washington that announced its softened stance on the 67 lines, sounded even more optimistic. While the path to a peace agreement was still long, “I don’t think you can underestimate… the significance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, [United] Arab Emirates, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and others coming to the table and saying, ‘We are prepared to make peace now in 2013,’” he said.

Teitelbaum, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, assessed that “chances are not good” for the current government to reach a final-status agreement based solely on the Arab League’s slightly more flexible stance. Yet he called on Jerusalem not let this opening go unnoticed in Arab capitals.

“At times, Israel needs to acknowledge when there’s flexibility on the other end,” he said. “For many years it was a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and now it’s not anymore. Now they accepted some language that is not entirely objectionable to Israel and many aspects of this peace initiative are acceptable to Israel.”

The author of a comprehensive paper about Israel’s position regarding the Arab peace initiative, Teitelbaum said that despite this week’s modification, there are still many gaps between the Arab and Israeli positions that might prove difficult to bridge.

“There are some nonstarters; they are very difficult and they’re not going away,” noted Teitelbaum, who also serves as consultant for several US and Israeli government agencies. “The question is, tactically, should Israel answer in the positive and say that we have objections to the peace initiative but since now the Arab League has shown some flexibility we will be willing to discuss it in an acceptable forum? That would go a long way toward positioning Israel as a state that is pursuing peace. And it would improve our relations with the United States. It could be a very positive development.”

Netanyahu, Obama and Abbas during a meeting in New York in 2009 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)Netanyahu, Obama and Abbas during a meeting in New York in 2009 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Gershon Baskin, the co-chairman and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, concurred.

“Israel has complained that the Arab peace initiative doesn’t take into account changes that have happened on the ground since 1967,” he said. “In agreeing to the principle of territorial swaps, they have in fact adopted what was the position of George W. Bush in his famous letter to Ariel Sharon.”

In April of 2004, the former US president wrote to the Israeli leader that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Rather, Bush wrote, it is “realistic to expect” that a peace agreement will be on “the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

Already back in 2000, then-US president Bill Clinton spoke of a “land swap,” in what came to be known as the “Clinton parameters.” At the time, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak accepted the proposal, albeit with certain reservations. The idea of annexing the settlement blocs to Israel and offering the Palestinians territory from Israel proper in return has since been cited countless times as a model to arrive at a two-state solution.

“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” US President Barack Obama declared in May 2011. This proposition has been accepted, in principle, by both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the previous Israeli government under Ehud Olmert. (Netanyahu’s idea of a two-state solution remains unclear.)

So if territorial swaps are a generally agreed-upon concept, is the Arab League’s acceptance of it really such a big deal?

It is, said Akiva Eldar, a veteran Israeli reporter on the peace process. “Up until now, the Americans paid lip service to the Arab Peace Initiative, and Obama mentioned it in his speeches, but there weren’t any official diplomatic contacts to move the process from a bilateral level to a regional peace initiative that also involves the Arab countries,” he said.

“It’s a formal upgrade,” Eldar added. “Up until now, the idea of land swaps was merely an ‘oral tradition.’ Now, the Arab states authorized [Abbas] to reach an agreement that’s based on the Clinton parameters, the road map proposed by the Middle East Quartet, and previous agreements.

It is also important to note that the Arab League’s overture comes at a time of regional upheaval, said Eldar, who wrote for many years for Haaretz and is now a senior columnist at Al Monitor. Despite, or maybe because of, worries about Syria falling apart and Iran heading toward a nuclear weapon, the Arab League is willing to soften its stance vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A general view of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, March 26 (photo credit: AP/Ghiath Mohamad)A general view of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, March 26 (photo credit: AP/Ghiath Mohamad)

Even Egypt, which is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, supports the adjustment of the 2002 peace offer, Eldar pointed out. “The initiative contains the words ‘normal relations’ [with Israel], which is very hard for an Islamist state to accept, but these words are still there. It’s very significant that today they can talk about this. And it also isolates Hamas, which is not ready to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.

Still, despite the ostensible rapprochement, some pundits don’t see how the mere acceptance of land swaps could help reach a genuine breakthrough.

Barry Rubin, director of the Herzliya-based Global Research in International Affairs Center, thinks the Arab peace initiative is “both a good thing and a scam.” While he agrees that the Gulf States are ready to consider ending the conflict with Israel, partly because they are afraid of Iran and could use good publicity in the West, there are a number of issues he thinks will make peace on the Arab League’s terms impossible.

First of all, Rubin doubts that all countries which signed on to the initiative really mean it. “Are we to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, the Hezbollah-dominated regime in Lebanon, and the quirky but pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime in Qatar have suddenly reversed everything that they have been saying in order to seek a compromise peace with Israel? Highly doubtful to say the least,” he wrote.

Rubin also points to several provisions in the text of the Arab Peace Initiative that were hardly mentioned in the media coverage this week, and that in his view will kill any prospects of a deal. For instance, the initiative calls for a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem,” which he understands to mean that Israel would have to accept “the immigration of hundreds of thousands of passionately anti-Israel Palestinians” within its borders.

However, Israeli proponents of the initiative point to a clause in the draft that states that any solution to the refugee question needs “to be agreed upon,” meaning that Israel will have a definitive say in the number of Palestinians who would enter its territory.

The Arab League initiative also contains several other possible deal-breakers: a demand to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state; a provision allowing Arab states to refuse to take in Palestinian refugees; and a call for Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria. To whom should Israel give the Golan?, some analysts wonder: Syria is deeply embattled in a bloody civil war, with no side willing — or able — to sign, much less honor, an agreement with Israel.

Yet more optimistic pundits say that none of the issues is unsolvable. With regards to Syria, the Arab League is willing to leave a seat empty for Syria, suggested Eldar, just like Jews do for the Prophet Elijah on seder night.

“Even the Arabs understand that now is not the time; they are not expecting Israel to return to the 1967 lines in the Golan. They are rational enough to know there is no one with whom to conduct negotiations. But it leaves an opening for the moment there is a proper government in Syria,” he said.

The division of Jerusalem is another key element of the Arab Peace Initiative that will likely prevent the current government from accepting it as the basis for peace talks.

Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid political party, seen embracing Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, February, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid political party, seen embracing Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, February, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Netanyahu is a staunch opponent of any plan that would divide the city. So are the two key allies in his coalition — centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Jewish Home party.

“I’ve been saying and writing for a long time that there is an Arab partner but there is no Israeli partner,” Eldar said. The only way for the current government to endorse the peace plan is for Lapid “to wake up and realize the potential he has,” he added. “He could bring down the government. But I don’t believe that will happen.”

Baskin, who two years ago initiated the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas that led to the release of Gilad Shalit, believes that a final-status agreement is possible — even with the current government. In the past, more than one Israeli leader pledged never to touch Jerusalem, only to later conduct serious negotiations about its division, he said. “Peace negotiations have a dynamic of their own.”

amd from Uri Avnery:

Uri Avnery

May 4, 2013


                                                No, We Can’t!



AN AMBASSADOR is an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country, a British statesman famously wrote some 400 years ago. That is true, of course, for all diplomats.


The question is whether the diplomat lies only to others, or also to himself.


I am asking this these days when I follow the arduous efforts of John Kerry, the new American foreign secretary, to jump-start the Israeli-Arab “peace process”.


Kerry seems to be an honest man. A serious man. A patient man. But does he really believe that his endeavors will lead anywhere?



TRUE, THIS week Kerry did achieve a remarkable success.


A delegation of Arab foreign ministers, including the Palestinian, met with him in Washington. They were led by the Qatari prime minister – a relative of the Emir, of course – whose country is assuming a more and more prominent role in the Arab world.


At the meeting, the ministers emphasized that the Arab Peace Initiative is still valid.


This initiative, forged 10 years ago by the then Saudi Crown Prince (and present King) Abdullah, was endorsed by the entire Arab League in the March 2002 Summit Conference in Beirut. Yasser Arafat could not attend, because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that if he left the country, he would not be allowed to return. But Arafat officially accepted the initiative.


It will be remembered that soon after the 1967 war, the Arab Summit Conference in Khartoum promulgated the Three Noes: No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with Israel. The new initiative was a total reversal of that resolution, which was born out of humiliation and despair.


The Saudi initiative was reaffirmed unanimously in the 2007 Summit Conference in Riyadh. All Arab rulers attended, including Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine who voted in favor, excluding only Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.


The initiative says unequivocally that all Arab countries would announce the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, sign peace treaties with Israel, and institute normal relations with Israel. In return, Israel would withdraw to the June 4, 1967 border (the Green Line). The State of Palestine, with its capital in East Jerusalem, would be established. The refugee problem would be solved by agreement (meaning agreement with Israel).  


As I wrote at the time, if anyone had told us in May 1967 that the Arab world would make such an offer, they would have been locked up in an institution for the mentally ill. But those of us who advocated the acceptance of the Arab initiative were branded as traitors.


In his conference with the Arab ministers this week, John Kerry succeeded in pushing them a step further. They agreed to add that the 1967 Green Line may be changed by swaps of territories. This means that the large settlements along the border, where the great majority of the settlers reside, would be annexed to Israel, in return for largely inferior Israeli land.



WHEN THE initiative was first aired, the Israeli government was desperately looking for a way out.


The first excuse that sprang to mind – then as always – was the refugee problem. It is easy to create panic in Israel with the nightmare of millions of refugees “flooding” Israel, putting an end to the Jewishness of the Jewish State.


Sharon, the Prime Minister at the time, willfully ignored the crucial clause inserted by the Saudis into their plan: that there would be an “agreed” solution. This clearly means that Israel was accorded the right to veto any solution. In practice, this would amount to the return of a symbolic number, if any at all.


Why did the initiative mention the refugees at all? Well, no Arab could possibly publish a peace plan that did not mention them. Even so, the Lebanese objected to the clause, because it would leave the refugees in Lebanon.


But the refugees are always a useful bogeyman. Then and now.



ONE DAY before the original Saudi initiative was submitted to the Beirut Summit, on March 27, 2002, something terrible happened: Hamas terrorists carried out a massacre in Netanya, with 40 dead and hundreds wounded. It was on the eve of Passover, the joyous Jewish holiday.


The Israeli public was inflamed. Sharon immediately responded that In these circumstances, the Arab peace initiative would not even be considered. Never mind that the atrocity was committed by Hamas with the express purpose of sabotaging the Saudi initiative and undermining Arafat, who supported it. Sharon mendaciously blamed Arafat for the bloody deed, and that was that.


Curiously – or maybe not – a similar thing happened this week. On the very day the upgraded Arab initiative was published, a young Palestinian killed a settler with a knife at a checkpoint – the first Jew killed in the West Bank for more than a year and a half.


The victim, Evyatar Borowsky, was the 31-year old father of five children – usual for an orthodox man. He was a resident of the Yitzhar settlement near Nablus, perhaps the most extreme anti-Arab settlement in the entire West Bank. He looked like the quintessential ideological settler – blond, bearded, with East-European looks, long payot (side locks), and a large colored kippah. The perpetrator came from the Palestinian town of Tulkarm. He was shot and severely injured. He is now in an Israeli hospital.


Before the incident, Netanyahu had been hard at work to formulate a statement that would reject the peace initiative without insulting the Americans. After the killing, he decided that there was no need. The terrorist has done his job. (As an old Jewish saying goes: “The work of the righteous one is done by others”.)


Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the (nonexistent) negotiations with the Palestinians, and President Shimon Peres welcomed the Arab statement. But Livni’s influence in the government is next to nil, and Peres is by now a joke in Israel.



IF THE American Secretary of State really believes that he can nudge our government slowly and gradually to “meaningful” negotiation with the Palestinians, he is deluding himself. If he does not believe it, he is trying to delude others.


There have been no real negotiations with the Palestinians since Ehud Barak came back from the Camp David conference in 2000, waving the slogan “We Have No Partner for Peace”. With this he destroyed the Israeli peace movement and brought Ariel Sharon to power.


Before that, there were no real negotiations either. Yitzhak Shamir announced that he was happy to negotiate for ever. (Shamir, by the way, declared that it was a virtue to “lie for the fatherland”.) Documents were produced and gathered dust, conferences were photographed and forgotten, agreements were signed and made no real difference. Nothing moved. Nothing – apart from settlement activity, that is.


Why? How would anyone entertain the belief that from now on everything would be different?       


Kerry will elicit some more words from the Arabs. Some more promises from Netanyahu. There may even be a festive opening of a new round of negotiations, a great victory for President Obama and Kerry.


But nothing will change. Negotiations will just drag on. And on. And on.


For the same reason that there has been no movement in the past, there will be no movement in the future – unless…



UNLESS. UNLESS Obama takes the bull by the horns, which, it seems, he is exceedingly unwilling to do.


The horns of the bull are the horns of the dilemma, on which Israel is sitting.


It is the historic choice facing us: Greater Israel or Peace?


Peace, any conceivable peace, the very basis of the Arab Initiative, means Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the establishment of the State of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem. No ifs, no buts, no perhapses.


The opposite of peace is Israeli rule over the whole of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in one form or another. (Lately, some despairing Israeli peaceniks have been embracing this, in the absurd hope that in this Greater Israel, Israel would grant equality to the Arabs.)


If President Obama has the will and the power to compel the government of Israel to make this historic decision and choose peace, may the political price for the president be as it may, then he should proceed.


If this will and this power do not exist, the whole great peace effort is an exercise in deception, and honorable men should not indulge in it.


They should honestly face the two sides and the world and tell them:


No, We Can’t.



Posted on on April 28th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (…

We found this information on-line 0n page 3 – left lower corner – of the Hebrew edition of the Right-Wing Israel Hayom newspaper. We got directed to it by the English language APN News Nosh of April 28, 2013 which is a Left-Wing media. So, we give it some credibility.

If the following turns out to be a correct description of Qatar readiness to deal with Israel – this is a serious development that can lead to the Arab Gulf States recognition of Israel de-Jure and not just de-Facto.


Qatari prince likely to visit Israel?

The representative of the royal family will arrive to launch the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Business Arbitration in Jerusalem, said Gen. (res.) Oren Shahor, head of Israel Chamber of Commerce. “Qatar is interested in investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing the hi-tech field and sees Israel as a strategic source for gaining knowledge and technology.”
(Israel Hayom, April 28, 2013, p. 3)


Posted on on April 24th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

We post the following because we were present in New York City at the first dinner Rabbi Marc Schneier hosted the Bahraini Ambassador to the UN. That was at the time an extension of Rabbi Schneier’s outreach to Muslims in the US – when he organized joint dinners between Jewish and Muslim communities in various places in the US. Eventually common interests will lead the way to the de-Jure acceptance of Israel as well.


New Header 

Gulf states ready for peace, says well-connected US rabbi

Marc Schneier, who has good ties with Bahraini royal family, urges Netanyahu to take a page out of the Sadat playbook and make the first public overture

Rabbi Marc Schneier with King Hamad at the Bahraini Crown Palace, December 2011. (photo Walter Ruby/Foundation for Et hnic Understanding)

By Raphael Ahren

April 23, 2013

Israel should publicly commend Bahrain for labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization and it should try to build strategic alliances with all Gulf states based on a common opposition to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a prominent American rabbi with ties to the Bahraini royal family said.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, an American congregational leader who recently met with the Bahraini king and the crown prince, urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit an Arab country and seize Israel and Sunni Muslims’ common distrust of Tehran as a path toward warming relations with parts of the Arab world.

However, an expert on the politics of the gulf states said that while Bahrain’s move to blacklist Hezbollah did present “an opening,” a real improvement of bilateral ties remains elusive and would likely stay under the radar.

“We’re so myopic, we’re so focused on Europe, and here you have a very significant development that took place in Bahrain,” Schneier told The Times of Israel, referring to the tiny Gulf state’s recent decision to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. “I am calling for a conversation to take place, a conversation that needs to begin within Israel about looking east, not only looking west.”

Schneier bemoaned the fact that the Bahraini parliament’s March 26 decision to outlaw the Lebanese-Shiite group received little press coverage in Israel, and that Jerusalem didn’t comment at all.

“No one’s even discussing this,” he lamented. “After Bahrain passed this legislation, I was simply amazed how little attention this was given in Israel. It is a landmark event, particularly because it’s an Arab country that has called on other Arab countries to follow suit.”

“Israel needs to remember it lives in the Middle East and not in the Middle West,” Schneier added. “There is an opportunity to begin to create some kind of strategic alliance with the gulf states, which have been very expressive about their concerns about Iran and its satellite organizations like Hezbollah.”

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on Schneier’s remarks, but a diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that “If the Bahrainis had wanted Israel to say something, they could have sent us a message through diplomatic channels. Since they didn’t, we didn’t.”

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry did not respond to a Times of Israel query on this matter.

Schneier, perhaps best known for being the founder of The Hampton Synagogue, which is frequented by affluent and prominent US Jews, is the co-founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

In the framework of his interfaith work, he developed a relationship with Bahrain’s ambassador to the US, Houda Nonoo, the first Jew to represent an Arab country in Washington. In December 2011, Schneier was received by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at the royal palace in Manama. The king told him that Bahrain and Israel have a common enemy in Iran. He has been in “close contact with the royal family ever since,” Schneier said.

Rabbi Marc Schneier with Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is also deputy supreme commander and first deputy prime minister (photo credit: courtesy Foundation for Ethnic Understanding)

In March, Schneier returned to Manama to meet with the heir apparent, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is also the deputy supreme commander of the Bahraini army and first deputy prime minister. He “validated and reconfirmed” his father’s statements about Israel and Iran, Schneier said.

Israel and Bahrain do not maintain diplomatic relations, but in 2005 King Hamad told the US ambassador that his state has contacts with Israel “at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad),” according to a secret US diplomatic cable published two years ago by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. He also indicated willingness “to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first.” The development of “trade contacts,” though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king told the ambassador.

Other WikiLeaks documents show that senior officials from both countries have spoken in recent years, such as a 2007 meeting between then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Bahraini foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in New York. The Bahraini foreign minister in 2009 also signaled that he was willing to meet Netanyahu to try to advance the peace process, but ultimately decided not to go ahead with the plan.

Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that the gulf states and Israel have a common foe in Iran. “The designation of Hezbollah is certainly an opening; it shows that they’re concerned about this non-state actor that Israel obviously regards as a dire threat as well,” he said.


However, a real rapprochement between Manama and Jerusalem remains unlikely, asserted Wehrey, who focuses on political reform and security issues in the Arab Gulf states and US policy in the Middle East. “On a strategic level, yes, there is a shared threat, but that doesn’t negate the very issue they’re facing from domestic parties and their populations. Many Bahrainis and citizens of other gulf states feel strongly about the Palestinian cause and the governments will therefore have to tread very carefully in how it approaches relations to Israel,” he said. “If there are ties, they would be under the table and hidden from the public view.”

According to the website of the kingdom’s foreign ministry, Bahrain supports the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines and the “right of return of Palestinian refugees.” Manama also holds Jerusalem responsible “for the unfortunate, deteriorating, and painful situation in the Palestinian lands as a result of Israel’s aggressive practices including: assassinations; settlement-building; and the erection of the Separation Wall; as well as attacking holy places, and imposing economic blockades,” the site states.

It is not even clear why Israel would want to develop overt ties with Bahrain, added Wehrey, noting that the autocratic regime is currently facing enormous criticism for its poor human rights record and the way it suppresses public unrest. A strong affiliation with such a state – which is not a regional powerhouse like, for instance, Saudi Arabia – “might actually damage Israel’s position,” he said.

But Schneier, speaking to The Times of Israel from his home in New York, believes that if Jerusalem made a genuine effort to negotiate a peace treaty with the Palestinians, then Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman would be willing to recognize Israel and normalize relations. “All gulf states are ready,” he said. “We now have the opportunity, or the tension, to move that thing along because of Iran.”

The rabbi called on Netanyahu to make the first step by approaching the Arab states. “I believe the prime minister should take a page out of Sadat’s playbook and either show up at one of the capitals of the gulf states or appear before the Arab League,” he said, referring to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel, which laid the foundation for a peace agreement between the two countries signed two years later.


“There is a precedent for it,” Schneier said. “As long as Israel continues to do its share at trying to arrive at a resolution with the Palestinian people, then I believe there is an opportunity here.”


Posted on on March 8th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

Gaza Marathon Canceled After Women Are Barred From Participating.

Published by The New York Times – March 5, 2013

GAZA — Gaza’s third marathon run, an annual fund-raising event planned for April 10, was canceled after the Palestinian territory’s Islamic leaders barred women from participating, the organizer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Tuesday.

The ban is the latest in a series of decisions by Hamas, which governs here, seeking to enforce tougher Islamic strictures on an already conservative society. But some of the measures have been unpopular, and enforcement has ebbed and flowed.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the United Nations agency, said the marathon was canceled after Hamas informed the agency that women would not be allowed to take part under any circumstances.

Of the more than 2,400 people registered for the race, some 370 were women, nearly two-thirds of them Gazans.

Hamas had no objection to the participation of girls among the 1,600 schoolchildren set to run.

In a statement, the agency called the development “disappointing.” It said runners who intended to come from outside Gaza to race were still welcome to visit the coastal enclave, and that alternative activities were being studied.

Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said in a text message that his government had informed the United Nations agency that the marathon should respect “some regulations related to the Palestinian people’s traditions and customs.” He said the government regretted the cancellation.

Salma al-Qadoumi, 22, who was among more than 250 female Gazans who intended to run, said she was “saddened and shocked” by the ban. “This is against Islam, because Islam encouraged Muslims to learn sports, and it did not stipulate that it’s only men who should practice sport,” she said.

But Maha Abu Shaban, an economic researcher, supported the ban, to preserve modesty and prevent mixing of males and females “in violation of the religion.”

Mr. Abu Hasna said the fund-raising was to benefit the agency’s summer games programs, which serve about 250,000 children. Hamas also provides summer programs for children here, and competes with the agency for enrollment.

The agency, which takes care of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and refugee camps in the neighboring Arab countries, suffers from a $66 million shortfall in its budget.

Since taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas has issued several orders for stricter behavioral codes, mainly about women’s dress. Last month, the Hamas-appointed council of Al-Aqsa University here imposed an Islamic dress code on women.