Palestinian State a Dream or Reality?

    After 63 years of uncertainty alongside the Jewish state of Israel the Palestinians are finally going to apply to the UN to be recognized as an independent country, as they informed the world in April 2011.

    The announcement came during the negotiations on the terms, which have to be met, in order for the Palestinians to return to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. The official reason cited by Palestinian president Abbas was that the negotiations are going nowhere and the Palestinians on their side have made all the preparations necessary to gain independence.

    Israel’s government condemned the move immediately, mostly from fearing the borders that would be defined in the UN (in the last few decades, Israel has a history of losing out in UN votes), however also because of the privileges of a UN recognized state. On the other hand, some leftists in Israel argued that this is a positive development in the conflict, since it would force Israel to push for a solution, which is already the status quo on the ground, as well as force the Palestinians to be held accountable to any act of violence on their part.

    The Palestinians, who have been for years diligently working on establishing foreign relations and representation abroad, put significant investment in countries sympathetic to their cause such as in South America, to ensure they gain a majority vote.

    In reality, the Palestinians have had partial autonomy after 1993 when some of the Oslo accords were actioned and Arab territories were passed to their jurisdiction completely and more so recently, when cooperation between IDF and the PA’s military helped maintain the peace (rather than IDF alone). However the separation of the Hamas ruled Gaza and the PA ruled West Bank, causes a real problem, as in essence a formation of two separate entities is taking place. As a result of that in a historic and surprising move in May 2011, Hamas and Fatah declared their intention to reconcile their differences and go to elections, which would end the segregation of the two geographies and establish one legitimate rule for both.

    This move caught Israel by surprise, since all the intelligence reports estimated that the fundamental differences between the two parties would be too far to bridge. For example, Fatah is a secular party, while Hamas has adhered to strict religious law (sharia), Fatah believe in curbing the violence and accepting the two states solution, while Hamas believe in conquering the entire state of Israel and continuing the armed struggle. Hamas takes its support and direction from Iran and Syria, while Fatah relies on the support of more moderate countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    At the time of declaration more moving particles were added to the equation, as Egypt agreed to open the Rafah border, which would lift the blockade on Gaza and help Hamas improve the quality of life of the Gazans and subsequently boost its popularity without losing face to Israel. This move was unpredictable as well, since Egypt under Mubarak was very wary not to make the people of Gaza dependant on it and thus bring the problem they pushed to Israel in 1967 and then again in 1979 back to their country.

    Politically, the Palestinians estimated that the intention to declare their state would give them leverage that would force Israel back to the negotiating table and compensate for their military inferiority. Initially, it seemed like this move worked and Israel went into panic mode, knowing they would lose the majority of the vote in the UN, Israel decided to concentrate on making their case to the most influential Western European countries such France, UK, Germany …etc. However what emerged shortly after, when the US declared their objection to this move, was that the Palestinians made a wrong calculation and whether they thought the US would not be able to justify an objection politically or whether they didn’t realize how the UN process works is not known. However according to UN protocol only after passing a vote in the Security Council, where the US has veto power, can the general assembly vote to recognize a new state.

    The US’s policy in regards to a Palestinian state at least since Clinton’s Road Map in the 90’s has been a two state solution achieved by negotiation with milestones of mutual gestures. The Obama administration has reiterated that those principals still remain and therefore the US is likely to oppose in the UN a one sided declaration.

    Some anonymous, yet apparently high ranking individuals in Fatah, have voiced concerns that taking the vote to the UN and failing to get a successful result, would be devastating politically and therefore if a way is found to halt the process without losing face, then this route should be taken. The aspect of failing in the declaration has also put pressure on the Hamas-Fatah unity pack. Whereas before, both parties were willing to unite for a greater cause, now that the cause appears to be uncertain, they each returned to pushing their agenda and less than two months since the historic agreement Hamas is already threatening to pull out.

    Not being able to show a united front would be devastating for the Palestinians, as it would help justify the undecided UN countries to vote against their application. However, Israel has also gotten some backwind from a forgotten stakeholder with shared interests, Jordan. Although an Arab state and apparently a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Jordan has been watching very closely the developments and considering the potential outcomes and their effect on its borders. An often forgotten fact is that Jordan’s population is about 30% of Palestinian origin and King Abdullah’s father, the late King Hussain, has in the past violently depressed uprisings of the Palestinians challenging his rule of Jordan. Declaring a state unilaterally would weaken Jordan’s position to claim the guarantees it seeks for itself from a new Palestinian state and Israel, in exchange for supporting the process. Another fear Jordan has is that a successful campaign might gain momentum and awaken the sleepy masses in Jordan, who still in their heart of hearts dream of being a part of an independent Palestinian state.

    With just over 2 months to go until the application to the UN is supposed to be made, it seems that there is still a high level of uncertainty of what is going to happen and what the implications would be. The main questions left unanswered are still whether Hamas and Fatah would succeed in keeping the unity, as well as whether the Palestinians find a way to go around the US to bring the vote to the UN’s General Assembly and finally if a Palestinian state was to be declared, what change would that make on the ground if at all.


Turkey’s Future

    As a result of everything that is happening in the Middle East, it must be very confusing  to be Turkish looking at your country’s role and considering its future.

    Every Turkish student learns about Turkey’s glorious history as part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the world and left its mark on history. Also they learn about World War 1 and Kamel Ataturk who fought cleverly and relentlessly on behalf of the Turks, which resulted in establishing Turkey as it is today with a well thought constitution full of ‘checks and balances’ to ensure that Turkey remains a modern country with the state separated from religion.

    Since the Ottoman era, Turkey’s economy evolved greatly as it moved from a conquering power to a soveirgn country. These changes resulted in some peaks and troughs of economic performance, but throughout the years, even with the different economic reforms attempting to increase export, Turkey’s economy never managed to rid itself of chronic problems such as high unemployment and inflation.

    In 1993, when the European Nations agreement rebranded itself as the EU, Turkey was not considered as a member. It didn’t help Turkey being in a key position such as Europe’s gateway to Asia as well as the fact that its close neighbour, Greece, was part of the EU. In 2004 Turkey once again did not make the cut in the EU expanson to Eastern Europe adding another 10 countries including yet another close neighbour, Cyprus. Not being accepted into the EU had a big impact on Turkey, as EU countries shared economic ties and  opened the borders for workforce migration Turkey was left behind.

    Some of the reasons for Turkey’s failure to join the EU are the allegations of human rights violations of its Kurdish population as well as its continuing part in a conflict in Cyprus. In the latter conflict, Turkey is still occupying North Cyprus and amongst other things is accused of ethnic cleansing of the Greek population, while settling Turks from the mainland.

    The Kurdish “problem” in Turkey does not often feature in the global mainstream media, nor is it an exclusive Turkish issue. It is an issue shared between the several countries where the Kurds are settled such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Armenia. Turkey, who has about 8.5 million Kurds (out of about a total of 61 million people) has had to resort to violent measures, in order to restore stability, especially opposing the PKK, who are considered a terrorist organisation by most of the Western countries. The treatment of the Kurds by the other countries is not necessarily any better than Turkey, however unlike Turkey, those countries are not part of the EU and so these policies rarely catch the West’s attention.

    While being a Muslim country, the values that Ataturk had instilled in Turkey were intended to prevent it from ever adopting a religious rule. Therefore it was natural for Turkey to limit its relations with Iran following the Muslim revolution 1979 and tighten its trade links with the likes of Israel. This has manifested itself very clearly in the economic and army cooperation between Israel and Turkey over many years. Turkey has also benefited from becoming a tourist attraction for many Israelis spending their hard earned cash in the country. The closeness of the relationship was highlighted in 1999 following Turkey’s devastating earth quake, in which over 17,000 people died. In order to help, Israel made a significant investment sending its rescue units to help reach and treat survives from under the rabble.

    However, the 1999 earthquake was one of the last friendly public gestures between the two, which were to be replaced with hostility following Erdogan rise to power in 2003. The attitude towards Israel was gradually worsening, as Erdogan’s government, the AKP, worked slowly to change key secular pro-Israel personalities in power put by the old regime.

    While there were already telltale signs of the attitude change, Turkey was still an ally to Israel sharing military technologies and taking part also as a mediator in the peace talks between Israel and the PA. The biggest change in attitude was noticed in Turkey’s reaction to the operation Cast Lead in 2009, when Israel went on the offensive in Gaza prompting international criticism. Just to ensure that this was not merely a one off display, rather a change in policy, Erdogan stormed off the stage in a public debate with Israel’s president Shimon Peres as well as cancelled a military drill with the IDF, instead running one with Syria. However the worst change in attitude is the support Erdogan gave the Gaza Flotilla, which involved violent resistance to the Israeli navy and resulted in 7 dead Turkish citizens. To this day Erdogan demands an apology and compensation from the Israeli government for these actions.

    During Erdogan’s government not only did the country start changing its secular regime, but it is also turning away from the West towards the East. Whereas Turkey supported American policy and allowed some military movement in the war on Iraq, Erdogan has been establishing closer ties with Syria and Iran. Moreover, Erdogan’s criticism of Israel has gained much popularity, as many Arabs see him as a true leader not bowing to US pressure. However, as the recent developments in the Middle East unfold, like so many other governments, Erdogan is finding himself aligned with the wrong side such as Asad, whose ligitmacy is questioned as a result of violence used to suppress protests in his country. It is likely that Erdogan might find himself in a similar position with Iran, however for now Turkey is still supporting Iran’s claim of no wrongdoing in regards to their nuclear program and is not taking part in sanctions imposed by US and the EU by purchasing oil to feed its growing economy.

    The paradox perhaps is that while Turkey is turning its back to the West politically, economically, Turkey has never done better. Erdogan has introduced some measures such as reforms to the banking system and allowing Europeans to purchase property as well as continue Turkey’s trend of export. As a result of all those measures and policies the economy has seen a boost relative to the rest of the world. Presiding over Turkey in such good economic times has increased Erdogan’s popularity and saw him elected for the third time with even more support than the last two elections.

    However the Muslim nature of the AKP is slowly seeping in and Erdogan has already expressed his will to make some changes to the constitution, which would undo some of the regulation that exist to ensure that Turkey remains a secular West facing country. One might speculate that Turkey is going through the same process of the Iranian revolution in 1979, just in an much slower pace.

    In my opinion, every Turkish person should ask themselves, whether this economic boost would continue if the country allows the religious institution to be introduced again and considering the turbulence in the Middle East, whether the AKP is gambling on the right regimes in the region.

Al Qaeda’s Justification

    Following the US’s assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the US’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is once again taking center stage at debates. There is a reoccurring argument, which states that Al Qaeda was formed as a retaliating force to the West’s foreign policies (especially the US) and that the war on Afghanistan was wrong to initiate, since the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden to US custody, if only, the US could provide evidence that he was behind the 9/11 bombing, as they requested at the time.

    Surprisingly a large number of people subscribe to these arguments or at least feel strongly that the US shares as much responsibility for the situation. This behaviour could be the result of the West’s democracy and free speech, which has given people the freedom to consider these claims, while not fearing persecution or even for publically doubting their governments’ motives and directly accusing them of moral wrongdoing.

    The open attitude of the West to freedom of speech, which it holds as one of the pillars of a free society has created an acceptance to misinformation and misleading by presentation of facts out of context. There is a layer of political correctness that created a gap in common sense. In this space shoddy figures strive, as the self-deprecating antigovernment narrative always finds enough audience rewarding its promoter both financially and with publicity.

    While criticising our representatives is our main defence to fend off our exploitation, it is important to understand to whom we might be lending our support and therefore question the other side equally.

    Al Qaeda was formed in 1988, well before the Afghanistan or Iraq war. It bases its ideology amongst other things, on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, which believed that the Muslims have a duty to follow strict Islamic law by creating a Muslim state and ridding their world of Jews and Orientals. In a fatwa issued in 1996, Bin Laden argued that the US must be driven out of Arab land and all the governments cooperating with the West such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be overthrown and replaced with one ruler over the entire region.  Achieving these goals would allow the Muslims to once more establish a Caliphate, which in essence would be an empire with no national borders stretching on all Arab land run by one man with divine authority, the Caliph.

    The reasoning behind the war on the West has evolved over the years. In the same Fatwa in 1996 Osama and Al Qaeda declared that the reasons for the need to fight the West are (besides of the existence of the Jewish state, Israel, on Arab land) the “…massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina…” However since 9/11, when Al Qaeda achieved the public exposure it was seeking, the reasoning for the attacks focused on Israel as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, which unsurprisingly are controversial issues that separate people in the same way that liberals have a different view of life than conservatives. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that Al Qaeda’s “marketing” of their ideology was tweaked, in order to apply pressure on the topic, which would widen the gap of the two beliefs and ultimately increase the convictions of their sympathisers, most of which were young Muslims or people with resentment to the government.

    Regarding the claim of the Taliban turning in Bin Laden, it is necessary to examine Bin Laden’s relationship with Afghanistan’s ruling party, which has always been close. Bin Laden claimed that the Taliban rule has made Afghanistan into a model Muslim state, governed by Sharia. Under the Taliban, pre-9/11, Al Qaeda was given free reign and established training camps, where most terrorist received their training and inspiration for attacks on the West. Given that fact, it is absurd to think that there was any substance behind the claim that the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden into the US hands, had the US only been able to provide enough proof that Bin Laden was behind the attacks.

    The other criticism often thrown at the US is that it is their imperialistic nature that Al Qaeda opposes. However any anti-Empire person looking onto Al Qaeda to dispel this notion, shouldn’t side with Al Qaeda on this matter, as Al Qaeda openly seek to create a Muslim Empire. Furthermore, one of Al Qaeda’s grievances was the establishment of a Christian rule in East Timor, ignoring the fact that it is a region with a clear Christian majority, which wanted to break away from bigger Muslim Indonesia.

    Last but not least, it should never be overlooked that Al Qaeda’s ideology seeks to obliterate millions of people’s rights and freedoms. As no doubt a true Muslim state under Sharia does not support democracy, does not allow women’s education or equality, believes that homosexuality is punishable by death as well as other laws, which the West finds as human rights violations. For anyone that would use the claim that most Muslim countries propagate this attitude anyway, it has been made very clear recently by the uprisings that this is not the will of the people and Al Qaeda would most certainly stop this situation from evolving into the Middle East democracies that its people seek and are for which they are willing to risk their lives.

    Therefore anyone that believes that Al Qaeda’s anti US motives are justified and believe that the solution would be for the US to leave the Middle East, should ask themselves, who would benefit from this action and more importantly, whether they truly believe that this would be the last time Al Qaeda disrupts  the Western world.

There are no mates in this stalemate

    Israel’s right wing government has taken a lot of beating in the mainstream Western media, including in Israel itself.

    One of the main reasons for that is Avigdor Lieberman and his party “Israel beyteynu”, which in the last elections won 15 percent of the votes, which put it as the third largest party in Israel, ahead even of the traditional Labour party, whose votes mostly went to the centrist party Kadima.

    Avigdor Lieberman’s typical voter profile is Eastern European immigrants to Israel that have a right wing propensity. In accordance with many of his voters, Lieberman, who heads his party, has a direct attitude, which does not go down well in the media when he promotes policies such as citizenship only for people who declare loyalty to Israel (which was never passed in parliament), insists on no more removing settlements as gestures of good will (in fact the opposite, keep building until this is addressed in a peace negotiation) or accuses the UN and Western world of double standard in regards to Israel.

    While some Israelis see Lieberman as a politician unwilling to compromise for self benefit and in touch with the sombre reality, many of the leftist/centrist Israelis are dreading two possible scenarios because of Lieberman’s hardline. In the short-term scenario, there is fear of further isolation of Israel in the global arena, as some media is looking to create a narrative, in which, Israel is a country that is slowly turning into the same regime its people fled from in the last century and Lieberman fits the bill as a catalyst. The second long term scenario is that progress would be made in the peace negotiations and when the time would come for Israel to take a brave step and commit to a risky and unpopular move, Lieberman would have enough power to veto it and a rare opportunity for peace would be missed.

    All criticisms of Lieberman are justified, as he is a dark horse in Israeli politics and after the last elections he is in a position to tilt the balance and cause Netanyahu’s government to crash, which puts him in the heart of it all and justifies the media attention and demand for accountability as the Foreign Minister.

    However the mainstream media fails to juxtapose Lieberman’s positions with those from the Palestinian side, who are not less powerful, namely Hamas, in order to give the reporting a balance.

    It wouldn’t be wrong to claim that the media’s treatment of Hamas has been on the softer side. Some commentators downplay the significance of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, while others portray a picture as if this refusal isn’t an obstacle to peace, basing this claim on ambiguous and slightly more moderate remarks from Hamas to the Western media (most notable one by Khaled Suleiman in 2006). However, every remark is often followed by the restatement of Hamas’ official stance by its leaders, which is to never recognize Israel’s right to exist and the fact that in practice, Hamas has not even gone as far as modifying its charter, which calls for the occupation of the entire land of Israel and killing of all Jews. The same message is also embedded in the education system and media in Gaza.

    The media also doesn’t address much of the internal politics of Hamas. On the one hand, Hamas has been a far better party than Fatah in regards to its own people. Unlike Fatah, who allegedly used a big amount of Palestinian aid money to fund a lavish lifestyle for their families outside of Palestine and were embroiled in all sorts of corruption cases, Hamas is not known to be involved with any major corruption. Moreover, it is known to give social care and support to the people of Gaza. However on the other hand, Hamas has been ruthless with the Fatah party members, injuring and killing them (mostly as reprisals for the treatment of Hamas members in the West Bank). Hamas have also been forcing some aspects of Islamic law, which involves suppressing women, gays, Christians, personal freedom and freedom of speech. Not to mention the complete lack of investment in infrastructure, while building up and developing an arsenal of weapons against Israel. To add to this list, their actions around their relationship with smaller militant groups and their own armed forces which have contributed to Israel’s naval and land blockade of Gaza as well as the civilian casualties, which are a result of conducting combat from civilian areas.

    The next few months leading up to September, when apparently an application to the UN for recognition of Palestine as a country would be made by Abbas and his government, I predict a media battle. Israel on the one hand will try to show the fragility and impracticality of the Hamas-Fatah agreement and how it is the main contributor to the peace negotiations collapse, while on the other hand the Palestinians will continue to claim their right to their own state, by delegitimizing Israel’s existence and highlighting the stalemate of the negotiations, because of Israel’s unwillingness to withdraw its settlements to the 1967 borders.

Obama’s speech May 2011

 Once again Obama has stood in front of the nation and gave an inspiring speech. Unlike George Bush, Obama has ability to eloquently convey his message in a clever manner downplaying any obstacles while emphasizing the positives. Painting a beautiful optimistic picture of “Yes we can”.

     However, shortly after it was given, the speech was criticized by the Republicans, the conservative media as well as Israel’s PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. All three parties claimed that Obama has betrayed the agreement he signed in 2004. They claim that his insistence of Israel withdrawing back to pre 1967 borders is going to leave Israel vulnerable for attacks and that the issues of Jerusalem sovereignty and the right to return of Palestinian refugees needs to be tackled as part of the same negotiations.

      The problem for the majority of Israelis with Obama’s speech is perhaps not so much the content as it is the timing and the possible lack of understanding of the full picture from the beginning of the conflict even before the six days war in 1967.

     In 1967 Israel pushed back many of the countries threatening its existence to borders which it could protect. As a consequence of the guarantee of its safety it ended up the Palestinians under its control, which has become the main problem overtime. Since the annexation of the land to Israel, Egypt and Jordan have refused to take it back as part of any treaty and Israel concerned about protecting its boarders thought that keeping the territories would be the least dangerous option.

     There is an added complexity to this issue, as some of the territories were once settled by Jews and still contain some of the holiest sites to the Jewish and Christian faiths. This fact has caused a growing movement of right wing religious groups to claim full control of these areas and follow the ideology of the ‘Complete Israel’. A movement, which has grown steadily in recent years due to sheer birth-rate typical to a religious population, but also supported with the Russian immigration, which while not religious is predominantly right wing in its views.

     Every realistic Israeli knows that ideas such as transferring the Palestinians to surrounding Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon is not a viable option and even if it were, it probably wouldn’t end the bitterness around the issue, which would still pose a risk in the future. Moreover, none of the surrounding countries have shown any willingness to help their brothers, as the Palestinians are still kept in refugee camps in some countries with very limited civil rights in some cases.

      Therefore it is almost a given that a point will come when on the one hand Palestinians will have to forego their idea of settling the entire land of Israel, or to return to all their birth places, which are now part of Israel. And on the other hand, Israel will have to forego their idea of keeping all the holy areas under their control and settling the entire land between the Jordan River and the sea. So Obama is not far off the mark in his speech of the vision of the final solution.

      As always though, the devil is in the details. The questions that still need to be negotiated are ones like: “what land does Israel withdraw from and what land it continues to settle?” Or “What are Israel’s territorial needs to protect itself in case it is attacked in the future?” “What would be the agreement around water allocation under the new borders?” …etc. This is not including the big questions such as what will happen with Jerusalem and which, if any, of the approximate 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants would have a right to return to the land and where to excatly.

     Despite this known truth to some or coming to terms with for others, in his speech Obama completely ignored the historical process which has been going on for years. In which, there is a clear pattern, in which:

  • An agreements is reached/signed.
  • A Palestinian leader claims to try, but not to be able to stop the terrorism, which leads to chaos.
  • Israel losing faith and not fully fulfilling its part of the agreement
  • Mutual accusations and collapse of the process.
  • Return to the table with the old agreements as the new basis for further negotiations.

     This process started in 1988, while in exile in Tunisia, Arafat accepted the recognition of a Jewish state and to abandon terror (resolution 242), which led to negotiation about borders, which ended in April 1989, when Arafat was elected head of the Palestinian National Council and reversed the agreement with claims for more land and return of terror.

     In the Madrid talks, not much was agreed, however by going into talks, Israel stepped through the threshold of officially recognising Arafat as a legitimate entity. The return to violence meant that in the long run Palestinians gained recognition, while Israel gained nothing substantial on the ground.

     This Summit was followed by the Oslo Accords, in which once again in exchange for cessation of terror and recognition of Israel, Arafat could return to the West Bank, the Palestinians would receive full control over some areas, trade and water agreement were made to boost the quality of life of the Palestinians. But as before, the terror never stopped. Despite some claims and a few symbolic moves, Arafat showed that he has enough influence to stay in power and suppress any act of rebellion, but not stop the terror or the uprisings (Intefada) that started shortly after (claimed in some sources that he instigated).

     So in essence, Arafat was back, recognized as a legitimate ruler, some territories were given back by Israel, yet the terror continued. Since the Oslo accords Gaza was returned to the Palestinians. Many claim that the return of the land was due to internal politics rather than a real step in the peace process, nevertheless, this has not changed the fact that one more big concession was made by Israel with no reciprocation, in fact the situation has gotten worst, since Hamas took control of Gaza and even the fragile cease fires achieved were often broken or not recognized by the smaller more extreme groups, which Hamas claimed it has no control over.

   The one glimmer of hope was Abbas, who seemed to actively suppress terror attacks. In fact in recent years the quality of life of the Palestinians in the West Bank has improved greatly, as Israel and Abbas played ball and fulfilled their obligations regarding cooperation and in security and trade. However this all was a temporary situation, as the Jerusalem and settlements issue were still not resolved, with the latter getting worse. This all came to halt, when a peace treaty was signed between Hamas and Fatah in May this year, which is probably due more to the currents of change in the middle east than Hamas and Fatah actually bridging their differences.

     So when Obama stood and told Israel that they should return to the borders of 1967 and security land swaps should be negotiated, what he really did was to undermine Israel’s negotiation point even more, as no doubt the next round of negotiations would start from the 1967 borders, undoing whatever demography gains Israel made on the ground, but not undoing any of the concessions Israel has already made.

     There is little doubt in my mind that Israel will not move away from the territories as expected, before it is confident that all of its security needs would be met. Nor do I doubt that the Palestinians will take the statements made by Obama and use those as the basis to their claims on borders. So in reality unless the terror attacks on Israel stop and the Hamas recognizes a Jewish Israel’s right to exist, there will be no real change.

Have They Missed the Boat?

Israel suffered a huge PR defeat in 2010, when the flotilla leaving Turkey arrived near Gaza and the Israeli navy boarded the Mavi Marmara boat in an ordeal which left 9 participants dead.

Israel damage control failed miserably, as the media was dominated in the first few days by numerous versions damning the Israeli Navy and estimating the killed at a much higher number than was eventually verified.

The Israeli army only released footage a week later, a time when world opinion has already formed and Israel’s claims and footage were either pushed to the side by many mainstream media outlets or declared as tampered with by the public that has already made up its mind.

The BBC was probably one of the only mainstream media organizations that looked at the conflict with no prejudice in the feature called “Death in the Med” in the investigative program Panorama. The BBC reporter managed to obtain rare interviews with the Israeli elite unit, in which the soldiers explained what they thought went wrong. The reporter also collated the evidence the Israeli army has released along with interviews with the participants and their footage to try to piece together what actually happened.

 While claiming that the blockade is legal under international law, Israel was criticized for confronting  the boats and accused of using excessive power. Apart from the worldwide condemnations from many governments, even before Israel had a chance to respond, the most noticeable damage was probably the altercation with the Turkish government, which preceded by an already shaky relationship. Turkey to this day demands from Israel an official apology and compensation to the families of the dead, a thing that Israel refuses to do.

The international’s community’s outrage comes mainly from the fact that the declared purpose of the flotilla organizers was to break the siege and provide the people of Gaza humanitarian relief. Israel’s released footage of some of the people on the Marmara declaring their willingness to die as martyrs or acquiring weapons and organizing a violent resistance has not had the impact Israel had hoped for. The damning images of poverty in Gaza, has given the resisting groups large room to manoeuvre within as well as outside the law before being criticized.

However, this situation is about to change. In the last 2 weeks, following the removal of Mubarak from power, Egypt has declared that in exchange for Hamas reconciling with the PA, Egypt is planning to open its Rafah border crossing to Gaza. So far the border has been sealed to any goods and allowed very limited humanitarian movement, since the Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. In fact, the Egyptian closure was a determining factor that allowed Israel’s blockade to have an impact, as goods were limited and brought in mainly via tunnels and traded on the black market with Hamas, reportedly, controlling these tunnels and pocketing the profits.

Any individual following the situation knows that this development is surprising, considering the great differences between Hamas and Fatah, as well as a mixed blessing for Hamas’ rule. On one hand, Hamas will now be able to better rule the strip by improving the lives of the civilians, importing good that were restricted by Israel, increase the arms smuggling by dedicating the tunnels to weapons only and perhaps gain popularity again for negotiating this improvement. On the other hand, Hamas is now bound to the PA, will inevitably become part of the negotiations with Israel in some capacity, which means it would be under pressure to curb its extremist stance and perhaps abandon its charter that calls for the takeover of the entire land of Israel (rather than 1967 borders as is commonly discussed). The reconciliation will also have an impact on the popularity, if the cooperation actually translates to actions on the ground, i.e. letting Fatah back to the Gaza strip as well campaigning again in the West Bank.

Another impact of opening of the border would be the onus on Hamas to improve the economy and the condition of the residents of Gaza. If Hamas does not succeed in this, it would have to go to great lengths to convince the world that the bad economical situation is still because of Israel.Failing to do this could further push Hamas out of the status of victims and change the international community’s sympathy to future flotillas.

Israel would then perhaps be in a stronger position to argue its case that the solidarity flotillas are nothing but a risk to its security or a provocation, since Israel claims that it has in the past stopped boats with arms as well as regularly allowing goods to be imported via land with the cooperation of the UN bodies.

The next few months will be a test to whether a real change will take place or whether things will stay the same. Claude Léostic (AFPS) and Thomas Sommer (CCIPPP), who declared their intention to send another boat to Gaza this June, will find out whether the world is still unconditionally on their side, or whether they’ve simply missed the boat.

How Do We Choose a Villain?

 There has been harsh criticism of the US’s foreign policy even before it was apparent that no weapons of mass destruction were going to be found in Iraq.

    To this day many polemists, perhaps the most famous one is Noam Chomsky are quick to point out the double standards or hypocrisy of the past and present US governments. Although it is not only the US that is accused of hypocrisy, since it is the largest economy and has the most powerful army, it is usually the one leading the world strategy and bearing the brunt of being chastised.

    A blog is probably not the right platform to recount all of the US’s past “mistakes”, but it is worth looking at the motivation behind events in the last 10 years.

    One of the biggest criticisms is the reason for actions against foreign countries. For example, sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear plan, sanctions against Iran’s nuclear plan, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, intervention in Libya and more importantly not enough intervention in other countries such as Darfur, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Congo …etc.

    Many criticizers point out that it is absurd for the US to go against nuclear ambitions of some countries, while having nuclear itself or the reluctance to put Israel through the same scrutiny. It is also absurd to arm a certain group or topple a certain dictator in the name of democracy and human rights, but happily accept and work alongside a “friendly” dictator, which tramples on the same human rights.

    Theoretically all these criticisms are valid. Looked at academically and independently, they would be hard to defend and plenty of scholars and politicians have gained fame and money pointing that out.

    However in my opinion this is where the subtle difference lays.

    There is no doubt that the Western world has become very wary of war and more liberal in its political orientation (although we are seeing this slowly changing in parts of Europe such as Finland, Netherland..etc.). At least in the intellectual communities and on the street there is still a sense of guilt because of Europe’s past, which involves years of colonization and all the negative things that come with it. South Africa is possibly the most recent example and has the biggest impact, as in its case, the wound is still bleeding as black Africans are still striving for economic freedom and Nelson Mandela is around to tell us about the horrors of Apartheid first hand. However South Africa is only one amongst many. Anyone who has the privilege to travel to exotic places such as the Caribbean, India, Australia, Africa…etc., doesn’t have to look very deep to see the marks left by the Western world. Evidence of oppressed indigenous cultures and exploitation could be found in abundance. 

    The liberal orientation manifests itself in the public being very suspicious about any political intervention in foreign countries. Any efforts to “build a country” are often seen as attempts in modern colonization in the sense of making money on the expense of another, while exploiting their natural reserves and taking advantage of their less advanced infrastructure and/or naivety. Many conflicts are seen as bullying regimes into playing ball and removing any obstacles to trade.

    While one could interpret the data in this way and conclude that this is the true motivation, there is a more convincing explanation that stands the test of reality better. The claim that it is all about the money is only half right. It would be more correct to say it is all about the money and the balance of power.  The US’s actions have always been about preserving the status quo of the world’s power balance, which in return secures its economy.

    For example, 9/11 was an event that shook America and threatened to destabilize the US economy. The US knew before 9/11 about the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, but they never acted upon this, since it didn’t pose a real threat to the world’s power balance, just the same as they never addressed militant activity in other parts of the Middle East. However when 9/11 cut through right to the heart of America’s conscious and economy the US decided to change the regime and stop the support, which they believed would end up in further attacks on the same scale.

    In Iraq the first Gulf War in 1990 was not about the weapons of mass destruction. Rather it was about an unpredictable Arab leader, Saddam Hussein, invading another country and threatening the world economy by trying to change the terms of the game, which would affect commerce amongst other things. The next time around in 2003 it was the same unpredictable leader raising his head again and this time aiding terrorists and expressing aspirations of attaining weapons that could change world powers.

    North Korea is another example of a regime intent of changing the power balance in the world. In the Korean War in 1950, North Korea was backed by China, while South Korea was backed by the US. North Korea winning the war would have changed the balance of power and in a similar way today, a powerful North Korea still poses a risk to the world’s power balance. Moreover, the fact that the Korean leader is an unpredictable character, who the US believes is capable of using nuclear power, puts him even more as a threat to the US economy and a loose force that has to be neutralized in order to maintain the status quo.

    Iran is probably one of the most interesting out of all the examples. Apart from the extreme religious views of the regime, which is a threat in itself to the Western way of life, if ever vigorously exported to Europe and the US. Iran poses another threat to the US, since nuclear capabilities would make it the super power amongst the Arab countries in the region, some of these Arab nations have close economic ties with the US. A new power order could change trade trends as well as make the region much more flammable, which could potentially cause the US economy to ground to a halt. Therefore it is essential for the US that Iran does not obtain this advantage. However on the other hand, stopping Iran by force would not be easy and is also a path that might affect the economy and ignite a bigger conflict. This is why so far, the US has only been using sanctions, which in essence are a way to control the flames around that conflict. While keeping the conflict on a low heat for now, the US is doing something, but reserving the choice to turn up the flames to a full military operation, which is what I believe they would do, when all options have been exhausted and time would run out.

    When Iran’s nuclear aspirations are mentioned it is often compared with Israel’s ambiguous nuclear capabilities, which the US and EU seem tolerant of. This is a somewhat strange situation, since in Israel’s case the nuclear capability is already part of the equation, therefore taking it away could disrupt the balance. Israel has never confirmed their nuclear capability nor signed the non-proliferation treaty, its official stance on nuclear weapon has always been that whether it really has it or not, is not important, rather, the deterrence it creates, which helps preserve a ceasefire with its neighbouring countries. The US and much of the Western world, seem to subscribe to this claim.

    Unlike the conflicts mentioned, other conflicts which are taking place in the world have not had a response from the US or alternatively the EU. The reason for it is probably because war is a very expensive venture and when there is no significant gain or loss predicted or a successful outcome projected, governments would rather run a mile from it. It is hard for any government to justify taking much needed money and instead of investing it in the country, investing it in an over-sea operation. As justified as it may be, this would put any government in a huge disadvantage in the following elections. This probably why there has not been much intervention in massacres in African or Asia Pacific countries, where the leaders have been just as ruthless and the death toll has been much higher than in the most discussed conflicts in the Middle East. Why the UN has not led an action against these atrocities is a completely different discussion, which could be summarised as “short term politics over global values”

    As mentioned before war is a very expensive venture and governments’ goal is essentially to be re-elected, this often leads to the country that has led the war to be the first to act, in order to gain economically from the new situation. This manifests itself with establishing new economic ties with the country, bringing in workforce from home to undertake work in the country and so on. This aspect has also been criticized, sometimes unjustifiably distorted to imply that this was the motivation for an intervention in the first place.

    The one aspect which has not been adequately dealt with is why governments cannot be open about their motivation for going to war. Why did the US and EU base their military effort in Iraq mainly on the assumptions that there are weapons of mass destruction. The only reasons I could find for this is the liberal orientation of the public, which as mentioned earlier, the public is already suspicious and does not tend to support military action easily. Another reason could be the level of engagement of the public. The governments and their PR advisors are under the impression that people cannot follow complex theories and only relate to situations where they can clearly see how they would be affected, so the governments need to focus on the main points rather than try to push a complex theory. Also, in order to maintain advantage the government can make limited usage of information they have, in order to sway public opinion. For example, the US knew about the secret nuclear plant in Iran long before Iran went public, however the US never thought to “out” them and use it as part of a PR campaign.

    It is important to mention that sometimes governments get it wrong, they align with the wrong side or underestimate an event. We should judge the quality of the government on its ability to predict and act correctly in these situations (unfortunately it takes time to be able to asses a situation correctly) and it seems that we are going to have many opportunities to do so, as there is a very strong force of change sweeping the middle East and Africa.