2 Years on and what about Israel


    It has been years that things looked very bleak for Israel in the Middle East. Hamas was gaining power, Hezbollah has engaged in conflict and was since training and  re-arming for the next one, Syria supporting movement of weapons to Hezbollah, Egypt not doing much to stop the weapons into Gaza and Jordan slaying its policies at every turn. At the same time in the outer ring, Iran was continuing its nuclear weapon program and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Turkey was becoming more religious and alienating itself from Israel, while supporting Hamas and finally the negotiations with Fatah were at a deadlock.

    However, then something unexpected happened and parts of the Middle East started burning. Changing the game completely.

    Looking back 2 years many things have happened that despite the chaos make more sense. For example, there has always been a tear between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This difference, which  is religious based, goes back many years and a great deal of blood has been spilled over it. However, it was always odd to see the cooperation between Sunni and Shia when it came to fighting Israel. As ambivalent as they made themselves seem, the Palestinians have always been a majority of Sunnis and therefore for Shia Iran to support them was unusual to say the least. Like gravity versus inertia, there was always a force pulling them down, however, it was almost invisible once the much stronger force pushing them together was at play.

    Another odd example was the rule of the minority of Alawaites in Syria, which was secular, yet supporting Hezbolla and at the same time hosting the Hamas leadership, both ultra religious groups of Shia and Sunni respectively. What is still peculiar in respect to the Syrian-Iranian relationship is that Alalwaite and Shia have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are grossly outnumbered by Sunnis in the world. In fact, many of the Alwaites traditions would seem foreign as well as sinful to Shia, who choose to look beyond the differences as well as Iran an ultra religious regime allied with a secular state.

    However, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots and it was only a matter of time until a catalyst ended this pretence.

    Since the uprising two very important things happened. The first one was the pressure that was created with the fierce fighting and extremely high number of casualties, which forced all groups to declare their allies. While the Palestinians would have liked to stay on the fence in regards to the conflict, they could not ignore the harassment and number of dead Palestinians at the hand of the Assad regime and as a result chose their natural Sunni side. On the other hand, Hezbollah has stayed loyal to its Iranian patron and has since openly declared its involvement in the fighting.

    The second byproduct was the pushing the Palestinian issue off the table. As far as the Arab world was concerned, once the glue that kept them all together was no longer effective, there was no reason to continue to support it. The Palestinian have been sidelined, as the regimes fight to keep control and stabilize their countries. Who still cares about the descendants of the 300,000  refugees that fled Israel over 60 years ago and  are now settled in neighbouring countries, when there are now over a million displaced Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan? Or When a country as big as Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy and the streets are still riddled with anti government demonstrations. This change in attitude has manifested itself in many forms, for example Egypt, run by the Hamas’ mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently imposing more restrictions on Hamas than Mubarak ever did. Destroying the smuggling tunnels, stopping weapon shipments, restricting border movement and applying pressure for them to avoid a conflict with Israel. The Syrians on the other hand have expelled Hamas’ headquarters from Damascus and Iran just recently stop supporting Hamas with weapons and reduced their financially aid.

    As far as the Western media, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably always gain some media attention, especially by the professionals dedicated to keep it in the headlines, in comparison in scale to what is happening around, it has shrunk and in some ways almost disappeared. Not only is it hard for the media outlets to favor such a relatively tiny and controlled conflict in comparison to the turmoil around, but the politics have blatantly conflicted with the usual narrative, making it a very long stretch to relate the events from the surrounding countries back to Israel. For example, Assad complaining that it is Israeli intervention that is pushing the rebels doesn’t sit well with the fact that Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy has chosen the rebels side. There are other inconsistencies such as the Iranian role and change of heart about Hamas, which all point back to the same conclusion that it is a Muslim sectarian war.

    A new villain that has not come well from local uprisings has been Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. On a few occasion he has already exposed his propensity for drama and uncontrolled anger, which is not necessarily followed through, like in the case of the Flotilla, after which he exclaimed that every flotilla travelling to Gaza would be escorted by Turkish war vessels, which never took place. While this was easy for the media to ignore, it was less easy for people to question the toughness towards Israel killing the 7 people onboard the flotilla in to say the least dubious circumstances, as opposed to the acceptance of Syria shooting down a Turkish plane killing two fighter pilots or regularly shooting into Turkish border towns. However, the recent events have landed him in the most negative exposure after his bad handling of the demonstration in Gezi park for the people opposing turning the public green space into a shopping mall. The casualties and evidence of police brutality against the Turkish people have earned him some very bad publicity.

    So while the region is burning and some taboos have been broken, such as rockets fired on Israeli territory from the Syrian side for the first time in decades and Egypt seriously considering renegotiating the peace treaty terms, the threats on Israel have reduced. While the terror attacks might grow and Israeli lives might be disrupted, apart from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has little threat to its existence by its crumbling neighbours. In fact in the latest developments, the rebels have managed to injure Hezbollah in a way that Israel never could and Hamas’ weapon arsenal and money stocks are depleting, which would ultimately make it more focussed internally and less of a trouble for Israel.

    However, one must remember that this is the Middle East and not only is nothing forever, but things don’t necessarily have to make sense either.

Turkey the New Regional Bully


    Many of us have had a chance at school to see a bully fighting. Most of the fights of a bully are pretty short lived, as most people would prefer not to stand up and either avoid them all together or take a token beating and hope that it would be the end of it. However every now and then there is something a little different in the form of a victim that does not play by the rules. Sometimes the victim refuses to give up and it seems that the beatings are ineffective, as they keep getting back up and would not submit or show the expected respect towards the bully. In the latter example, most of the bystanders wonder why the victim is not doing the smart thing and playing by the rules, rather than potentially harming themselves even more. Currently the same playground behaviour could be seen on a country level with Turkey playing the part of the bully and Israel the victim.

    There are plenty of theories behind Turkey’s new foreign policy. One theory claims that the PM Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu are strict Muslims and believe that their policy towards Israel and Syria is a result of being good Muslims, reaching out for their fellow Sunnis.  Another theory is that in order for the government to gain domestic support, they use the lowest common denominator, which is sympathy to the Palestinians by invoking anti-Israel feelings and focusing on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Another theory is that Turkey has realized that they are not going to be part of the exclusive EU club and have turned their attention to regional dominance.

    As often in politics the answer is not simple and not one dimensional as some of the mainstream media often like to portray, in order to make their message easy to understand. In fact, reality lays somewhere between all the theories.

    When the crisis between Turkey and Israel increased in the beginning of 2011, some Israeli Media speculated that this is merely the AKP’s election strategy to collect votes and the attitude towards Israel would gradually improve following the imminent victory (AKP needed not just to win the election, rather gather a great enough majority to push some constitutional changes). Needless to say, this turned out to be a wrong assumption, as the relationship is deteriorating at its fastest pace following the AKP’s victory.

    The second theory regarding the EU turning away from Turkey is not an invalid point, as it is factually true. However with the Euro suffering a financial crisis, Turkey could be only grateful for not getting into this sick bed previously, where their investment would go towards stabilizing the PIGS countries’ economies (especially hated Greece) as well as other countries bound to go into crisis. So in reality, not entering the EU could be spun to the public as a victory of good economics and clever forecasting and the advantage of seeing the EU when it is at a low point, could be leveraged to join under even better conditions.

    The third theory implies that Turkey is trying to become a regional leader. Once again the theory consist of true facts, however the actions in the political arena are not fully supportive of the theory. It is true that Israel bashing is an easy target to gain acceptance in the Middle East and because of Muslim doctrine, any country with a Muslim community would always find followers that disagree with the concept of a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East. However any country wishing to truly become a regional leader, must maintain a relationship with the West and currently this relationship goes through Israel as well as the USA. Iran is a perfect example of a country with a powerful army, influence in many Middle East countries, but that has been blacklisted by the West and therefore finding it difficult to turn its influence to official state relations and become a policy maker in the region.

    So what is behind Turkey’s changes of policy?

    Since winning the elections the AKP has had a disastrous result to their foreign policy. The leading guide for the Turkish policy has been making friends with all their regional neighbours. Turkey declared that it seeks to have all the countries onside, avoiding any conflict. However, reality could not be further from this aspiration. Despite a very lenient attitude towards Iran regarding the nuclear program in early 2010, which enraged the USA as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE, Turkey and Iran are not seeing eye to eye over the response to the crisis in Syria and Iran as a result has given Turkey the cold shoulder.

    Syria, which was the cause of the conflict between Iran and Turkey has also changed its tune very quickly about Turkey. Despite the new Turkish closeness, after snubbing Israel, it completely ignored Turkey’s requests to reform and cease the violence and even made things worse by the impact of the refugees on Turkey. In the last week, Turkey’s foreign minister referred to Asad publicly as a liar, who cannot be trusted. This left Turkey without a military ally and made it realize that it did not have as much as influence as it may have thought.

    However, Iran and Syria were not the only disasters to Turkey’s policy, the long running dispute with Greece over North Cypress has not improved, rather reignited over Greece’s oil exploration in waters, which Turkey does not recognize as Greek. The situation has become so volatile that Turkey has threatened to send war ships over to territorial waters, once Cypress starts searching for natural resources. 

    During Erodgan’s reign the claim of genocide to the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire during WW1 has been brought up again, just adding more to the government headache and causing potential tension for the roughly 50, 000 Armenian citizens in Turkey.

    Domestically Turkey has not done too well either, while Erdogan tried to reach out to the Kurds in the country, or at least declared reaching out as his policy, it was still illegal for some Kurdish candidates to run for office, which amongst other reasons caused the conflict to intensify manifesting itself by repeated attacks by the Kurds militant groups on the Turkish army and resulting in Turkey bombing the Kurdish posts in Turkey as well as North Iraq and there doesn’t seem to be an end to this uprising.

    Besides quarrelling with nearly all of its neighbours, Turkey has just recently threatened to freeze its relationship with the EU, if it goes ahead to appoint Cypress as the temporary president of the EU. There is still not much detail on the way in which the relationship would be frozen, however, losing more European tourists as well as trade suffering would not be well received in Turkey.

    In Turkey, the opposition has also increased the pressure, claiming that the AKP’s foreign policy is a complete disaster and the country is slowly becoming isolated despite its goal to get along with everyone. The current government knows that in order to stay in the ring until things get better, it needs to fight back and restore its dominance. The one powerful punch it could give, in order to restore its dignity amongst the Arab world and its home voters was to demand an apology from Israel and show that it still calls the shots in the Middle East. However, despite all chances and everything Israel has to lose, it refused to capitulate. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palmer report has mainly sided with Israel claiming their blockade of Gaza is legal and that they have the right to intercept any ship trying to break it.

    Since Israel’s refusal Turkey has lost complete control, which is the part where the bully understands that the game has changed and he does not have the upper hand. Turkey has since kicked out the Israeli ambassador, declared the UN report (commissioned by the Secretary General) as wrong and irrelevant. It added that the next flotilla would be escorted by Turkish warships, which is just short of declaring war on a NATO partner country. After little impact, Turkey also declared that it intends to cut government and military trade with Israel, as well as support the Palestinians cause in the UN, take Israel to the Human Rights Court in the Hague over its conduct during the flotilla and plan an official visit to Gaza.

    Sadly for the Turkish government, so far its threats have failed to make a real impact on Israel and get the desired result, which would be a change of the Israeli government to a more leftist one. Israel has been embroiled in its own “Spring”, which saw continuous demonstration and 400,000 people go out to the street to demand economic reform. As a result, the Israeli media has dedicated most of its coverage to the protests and the protesters themselves vowed not to let external influences quiet their voice, some going as far as blaming Netanyahu as playing up the crisis with Turkey to create a distraction.

    The question that remains is how far the Turkish government would go to reach its goal of making Israel submit and whether it would succeed in doing so before it gets labelled as unreasonable and dangerous.

The Palmer Report


    The Palmer report is finally out after weeks of delay allowing the Israelis to reach an agreement with the Turks, who insisted that Israel apologizes for the killing of their civilians in the Flotilla in 2010 and compensates the families financially.

    Unlike previous reports such as the Goldstone report, the Palmer report was conducted under the sponsorship of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rather than the Human Rights Council, which has been accused by Israel, the US and even Goldstone himself amongst others of bias against Israel. This very important fact enabled Israel to cooperate fully rather than to confiscate it under the claim that it has no mandate.

    The report itself is a 105 pages document, which bases its findings on the two independent investigations done by Turkey and Israel, as well as examining independent evidence. As expected the two investigations varied significantly on some fundamental points. For example the Turkish government claims that the blockade on Gaza is illegal, because it does not follow the naval agreement protocol as well as, the fact that Gaza does not qualify as an international conflict. The Israelis on the other hand, claim that it is an international conflict between two governments and that it has followed the correct protocol in enforcing the blockade.

    Other points of dispute are: the validity of Israel to board the ships in order to stop them, whether this was a humanitarian mission or publicity stunt as well as whether the ships changed their course to Egypt after the Israeli navy warnings. Both reports included their interpretation of the events and one could see that both reports were written with an agenda.

    Israel in general should be quite pleased with the report, as it clearly determines that the blockade over Gaza is a defence measure and therefore legal. The report also examines the timelines and events and determines that there is no reason to believe that the naval blockade is tied together with the land restriction of transferring goods and furthermore, does not appear to be a collective punishment measure, as it corresponds with security events, rather than political moves. Basing their facts on communication prior to the boats leaving and throughout the journey, the report determines that there is no reason to believe that publicity was not a main goal of IHH and accordingly that the boats did or would change their destination to Egypt.

    Turkey on the other hand did not come off the report lightly. The report did recognize that the government advised the IHH people not to risk themselves by travelling to Gaza and trying to break the blockade, however the report found that they did not do enough to stop them.

    While it was determined that Israel had the right to defend the blockade, Israel was criticized harshly for the planning of the operation. One of the main points was Israel’s failure to reassess the situation after the military’s speed boats sailing alongside the Mavi Marmara were attacked by projectiles. The panel examining the facts believed that more could have been done to stop the ship from continuing prior to boarding it with soldiers. The other main criticism was that once the soldiers were on board there was excess violence used., since some of the dead were injured from shots from close range as well as in their back.

    The conclusion of the report is that this encounter should have never happened in the first place. It blamed the IHH of being reckless in trying to break the blockade as well as for organized violence and intentions of publicity rather than practicality of supplying aid into Gaza. For example the report argued that the Mavi Marmara was too big for the Gaza port, which meant that had it reached Gaza, the goods would have had to be offloaded onto smaller boats out at sea, this would be much less practical than delivering the goods by land via Egypt. Another conclusion was that Israel did use excess force and should therefore express regret and pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.

    While this report is probably the least damning report about Israel to come out of the UN in the last 30 years, there is still a sense amongst Israelis that it was watered down, in order not to vilify Turkey as well as leave an opening for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. For example the report does not recognize that during battle there is always room for errors and uncertainty, which does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, nor did they consider that some of the dead were shot in the back or from close range as a result of the intense combat. It is not unreasonable to believe that one soldier seeing a fellow soldier attacked and in danger next to him, would shoot the attackers to prevent harm to the soldier, this shot is more likely to be to the back rather than the front and it is not any less valid or necessary if it is taken from close range.

    However despite the watering down that may or may have not been applied, the report had not managed to make things better between Turkey and Israel. The Israeli government after long considerations of the impact of a cold relationship with Turkey, decided not to apologize to the Turkish government and not to compensate the families of the dead. Israel did, express regret about the deaths, but was adamant about its right to protect itself and enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the report was only due to come out on the 2nd of September, however, it was leaked to the media a day earlier and as a result Turkey has called a press conference, in which it accused Israel of leaking the report and declared a list of measures it would take against Israel. Some of these measures include downgrading the diplomatic relationship between the countries, stopping the military cooperation, supporting the Palestinian state vote in the UN and aiding Turkish citizens wishing to sue Israel in the international court of law. It must be said that most of these actions, while not official, were already happening in practice since the Flotilla in 2010.

    Interestingly, despite the report being produced by the UN, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has already said that he does not recognize the report’s conclusions as valid. These statements, while harsh, are probably a comforting point to Israel, since it seems that Turkey is not being reasonable and had Israel apologized as requested, it would have made little difference to the already deteriorating relationship. It will also be interesting to see the choices Turkey makes, as it seems like its position in the Middle East is quickly being compromised with Syria’s regime being toppled, shortly after tightening their relationship, the Kurdish community carrying out more daring operations and as a result reprisals from the Turkish army killing hundreds drawing some criticism and Iran suffering economic difficulties, as China is slowly moving to the US’s side and reducing its trade with it.

Turkey and Syria – A Short Lived Alliance


    There are a few major events happening in the Middle East, which are to shape the region politically and economically for the foreseeable future. The first event is the revolution in Egypt, which despite the removal and humiliation of Mubarak has not been completely put out. The second event is the revolution in Libya, which is currently unfolding as rebels assisted by the ally forces are drawing closer to toppling Gaddafi. The third and perhaps most interesting development is the Turkey – Syria relationship, in light of the violent depression of the Syrian revolution.

    The mainstream media has, as usual, focused on the death toll and key developments in the conflict as they unfold. However there is a much more interesting story behind the developments, which has a more serious impact on the West and was started in 2009.

    Following ‘Cast Lead’ operation in Gaza at the end of December 2008, Turkey’s government expressed its indignation at the operation and their dismay at the stealth move by Israel, while they were mediating the negotiations between Israel and Syria. One of the most famous public displays was Erdogan storming off the stage in a conference in Davos after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of killing civilians.

    The Davos display was followed by a few more public criticism of Israel, however at the time, many interpreters explained the situation as the AKPs winning strategy for the elections as well as an attempt to establish their status as political leaders in the region, especially after getting nowhere with their application to join the EU. Israel, which still has diplomatic ties with Turkey, saw this as a hurdle in the relationship, partly due to Erdogan’s Islamic nature and partly due to a power game between Turkey, the EU and the US, however other signals such as the fact that Turkey did not withdraw their ambassador to Israel or demand that Israel do the same, gave Israel assurance that things are still at hand.

    The biggest turning point in the equation wasn’t when Turkey cancelled the regular military drill it holds with Israel, rather, when they decided to hold the drill with Syria. Israel could not ignore this move, as Turkey has been a partner in economic trade but more important a recipient of advanced Israeli military capabilities. Israel was involved in updating the Turkish air fleet as well as providing them with advance tank arming technologies, rockets and surveillance equipment. Transferring these capabilities to countries Israel is in conflict with, would put Israel in a great disadvantage and Israel couldn’t ignore this risk and the impact in its potential future conflicts.

    In 2010 by the time the first flotilla incident happened, in which a group of ships sailed to Israel from Turkey with the blessing of the Turkish government to break the naval blockade on Gaza, it was obvious that the relationship between the two countries was in fast decline and was not about to improve. One of the ships in the flotilla was the Mavi Marmara, which later proved to contain a group of men prepared for violence, ending in the death of 9 Turkish citizens as a result of resistance to the Israeli commando takeover.

    Turkey’s change in foreign policy broke two unofficial core rules. The first rule is the move away from the West, despite being mainly Muslim Turkey has always managed to stay secular and West-facing . The second rule was to openly criticize Israel over the treatment of the Palestinian, indirectly opening the door to criticism about its own treatment of ethnic groups such as the Kurds. Considering the two norms in place and their repercussions on Turkey, it is reasonable to believe that this shift in behaviour is not a reflection of one man ideals or a different management style, rather a government’s new foreign policy strategy.

    Part of the new foreign policy was also to take a more lenient line towards Iran and establish closer ties to Syria. So far the latter part has already blown up in Turkey’s face, as Syria was also infected by the Arab Spring and the only way Asad could protect his throne is by violently killing the demonstrators in the hope that the rebel leaders would be removed from the equation and the rest would prefer not to risk their lives. Under the bloody circumstances, Turkey could not be seen to support the killing of so many civilians (over 1500 civilians have already been killed a number that far exceeds for example the number of civilians killed in the 3 weeks Gaza war). Nor does Turkey see kindly the thousands of Syrians fleeing into its borders, which is causing a humanitarian crisis or even worse inflaming Turkey’s own ethnic groups seeking a change of government. There have also been reports about Turkey making it very clear to Asad that cross-border operations, targeting the opposition forming on the Turkish side, would not be tolerated and could prompt military retaliation. The worst part, however, has been the Turkish realization that they still have limited influence in the region and with the EU sanctions on Syria, they may need to change their economic strategy.

    The other part of the changed foreign policy was the leniency towards Iran, this has already damaged the Turkish American relationship, however, not enough to have a major impact yet. Turkey should not ignore this development though, as all the intelligence reports are indicating that Iran is using the turmoil in the Middle East to quietly get on with their nuclear plan, hence the increased rate of dead nuclear scientists bodies turning up in the Iranian morgue. Apparently Iran is not far from making the nuclear breakthrough (increasing the uranium enhancing rate, essentially creating enough raw material for a nuclear bomb). There is no doubt that if Iran achieves its purpose, this development would become common knowledge shortly after and cause a complete shift of power and alliance in the region and possibly the world.

    Turkey’s government has been playing a very dangerous game, turning its back on old friends and agreements and seeking new ones, which do not have the best reputation. One gamble has already proved wrong and another doesn’t look too promising either. The question is whether the government would be able to find ways to sustain the economic growth, which would secure it another win and prevent a coup. No doubt the Turkish government should be following every toppled regime in the Middle East and recalculating their strategy accordingly.

All Is Not Well – According To The Poll


    Anyone following the situation in the Middle East would have probably seen the articles around the poll conducted by Stanley Greenberg, issued by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion as well as the Israeli Project. Although this poll was not sponsored by right wing Zionists rather a Palestinian center and an allegedly peace promoting organisation (the essence of the name and cast of the board should make anyone a little doubtful about the neutrality, even if it isn’t justified), the results were quite damaging for the Palestinians.

    The survey itself was conducted in a controlled manner, personally interviewing 1010 Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza. The interviews targeted a variety of people and the results are set to have a 3.1% error margin.

    Possibly the most worrying result for Israel was the approval rate of 73% of people questioned of the Hamas Charter, which calls for the killing of all Jews. Also 80% agreed that it is a Muslim duty to participate in Jihad to eliminate Israel.

    Some authors, typically sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, have argued that there is a difference between what the Palestinians want as opposed to what they would accept. However when 61% of people questioned said that they disagree with the negotiations basis, i.e. 1967 borders with land swaps and 34% rejecting outright the idea of a Jewish and Palestinian state coexisting, it is hard to put a positive spin on the prospects of peace. A question that played straight into the Israeli right wing parties hand was whether Palestinians supported the Gradual Approach, in which the Palestinians should reach an agreement for two states in stage one with the intention of establishing one state with a Muslim majority of the entire land of Israel in the second stage. This was ratified with the support of 66% of people who participated.

    Some comfort could be found in the fact that only 22% supported the continuing rocket attack and 60% preferred diplomatic solution. Also it was made clear that highest priority for Abbas was to create Jobs, which was supported by 83%, although that came of the expense of people believing he should spend his time negotiating with Israel, which only received 2% support.

    However, while the results are and will continue to be manipulated to fit different agendas as well as the pollster and sponsors would be celebrated or slated accordingly, it is important to consider the results against a comparable source, which is the results of the same survey done by the same people a year before. In October 2010 a survey was conducted by the same pollster Stanley Greenberg, in that survey 854 people respondent and while some questions differed, many of the questions remained the same, although the answers differed significantly.

    For example while only 20% prefer violence over talks and 60% prefer talks in the recent survey, last year 58% favoured armed struggle and only 36% preferred diplomacy. Also the numbers for accepting a two state solution were flipped as 60% accepted the two state solution and only 36% rejected it. The answer that has stayed quite constant, which is the one of the sticking points between leftists and rightists in Israel is the gradual solution, in which the agreements today are only signed, in order to gain ground and gradually move onto the entire land of Israel, the result was 66% in both surveys.

    A few observations that could e made on the two surveys should be very worrying. If the polls are taken as a reliable source of insight into the Palestinian street, then Israelis shouldn’t expect the security to improve after making more concessions and signing a peace agreement, since both poll indicated that the majority of people see the solution as a stepping stone. Another observation that could be made is that the number Palestinians favouring armed struggle has declined, but the number of Palestinians rejecting the peace process increased significantly.

    The analysis of the results could be interpreted to fit more than one narrative. On the one hand Israelis could claim that the cooperation between IDF and the PA and the targeting of Hamas militants has had success, which caused Palestinians to move away from violence, however the same data could be interpreted claiming that the Palestinians have realized that delegitimizing Israel in the world arena for events such as Flotilla, Cast Lead and the humanitarian crisis, would do a lot more towards achieving their goal than firing rockets.

    Whichever interpretation a reader would like to give the data, some things cannot be debated, if one were to believe the survey results. The peace negotiation frame put forward by the American government, which has been dicussed since Oslo in the 90s and partially implemented is completely rejected by the Palestinian majority. Even the ones that agree to it, see it as a temporary measure. Also, every Palestinian civilian that dies from the conflict or any hardship inflicted upon the Palestinians increases the animosity towards Israel from the Palestinians as well as the rest of the world, however, the education the Palestinians give their children in particular in Gaza and the culture ideology is anti-Israeli, justifying killing Israelis, and promoting the idea that one day the entire land of Israel would be taken back. This educating process taking place in mosques, schools and national TV has been going on for a long time and has resulted in an entire generation growing up on hatred, which is partially responsible for the survey results. While the same could be said about the far right Israelis typically the settlers, they are still a minority in Israel and they have not penetrated the national curriculum or national TV, in fact in Israel, it is very much the case that the left wing ideology is supported in universities and the mainstream media.

    Anyone that is hoping to see a solution, in which two states are peacefully living side by side, should be very disappointed from these results. Since as things stand, even if a peace agreement would be signed, it wouldn’t reflect the true opinion of the Palestinian people, which could make as shaky and non relevant as the Fatah-Hamas agreement.

    Perhaps a more practical approach needs to be implemented, in which the situation is analyzed and international actions are taken such as to remove incitement on both sides, international enforcement of no violence and smuggling and in return a significant bettering of the conditions of the Palestinians and opening the region to trade. The difference of this approach from before would be for the International to shift to an active role rather than the passive one today. However, in the political climate, where Iran is still a driving force of anti-Israel sentiment, Russia is a growing global power sheltering Syria, which is its one true foothold in the Middle East and China, which disagrees to take any active part in aligning its economic policies to political trends and/or abiding by international sanctions, this is very unlikely to happen and we are likely to see a lot more of the same.

Flotilla 2 – Why the sequel is rarely as good as the original


    In May last year the entire media was dominated by news of the Flotilla clash with the Israeli navy. As with many evolving stories, the first eyewitness accounts talked about a big number of dead as a result of a massacre committed by the Israeli Army. These news reports prompted immediate condemnations from many countries around the world. However, as time progressed and more light was shed, it became apparent that the number of casualties was much lower than first reported. Later on it was apparent that while it could be debated whether Israel used too much force, it was clear that it was engaged in combat and did not open fire on unarmed people practising passive resistance.

    Perhaps learning the lessons from the Goldstone report Israel agreed to cooperate with a UN committee to investigate the events. It is very likely that the cooperation also stemmed from the fact that this committee was commissioned by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, rather than by the Human Rights Council, which Israel deems biased against it (a claim also made by Judge Richard Goldstone in his Op-Ed).  The committee headed by Geoffrey Palmer the former prime-minister of New Zealand, which also bears his name, includes both Israeli and Turkish members. Although the report has not yet been published, it has been leaked that the report suggests on the one hand that Israel’s blockade was legal although too much force was used too soon and on the other hand that the Turkish government was wrong to back the IHH Flotilla.

    However the Palmer report has failed to make big news outside of Israel and it is still to be seen whether it will after it is published. However even if the report does make main headlines, last year’s flotilla could still be held as an enormous PR success to the organizers, as yet it again it put the Gaza issue on the top of the agenda, while supporting the theory of an over-aggressive Israel.

    Based on the success of the first Flotilla, the organizers decided to use the momentum created and organize a repeat of the events. Initially this was a foolproof plan, as the journalists were already on their side after the previous year, many members wish to take part, including American Jews that wished to show solidarity, therefore in essence, the main task was to simply sail the boats and exposure would be gained even if there is no deadly confrontation with the Israeli army.

    However several circumstances changed and failing to spot those led to a disaster for the organizers.

     At First, weeks before the Flotilla was due, Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement, which resulted in Egypt opening the Rafah border. While this didn’t deter the members of the flotilla, it did start eating away at the public support for the legitimacy of this venture.

    The second factor to change was the Turkish government’s stance. The Turkish government suffered a blow as they aligned themselves alongside Asad, who was killing civilian protestors, which was perceived badly around the world and resulted in a flux of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Also, the AKP had just won the elections, so it decided to tune down the anti-Israel attitude to ensure it does not impact the economy by damaging its relationship with the US.  It is also likely that they knew that the Palmer report was also going to shine some negative light on its conduct. As a result the IHH was pressured by the government to pull out of the flotilla.

    The third factor that changed in 2011 was the killing of civilians in both Syria and Libya. It has been reported that over 1500 civilians were killed in Syria and somewhere between 2000 and 10000 were killed in Libya. This fact again was chipping away at the public interest and support.

    The fourth factor to change was the shift in the Greek government’s policy towards Israel. In the past Greece was known to support the Palestinian cause and criticize Israel. This position was mainly due to Israeli  cooperation with Turkey, with whom Greece was in conflict over North Cyprus. However, with the Israeli and Turkish relations drifting apart in the past year, Greece has spotted an opportunity to tighten its relations with Israel, which has managed to stay stable throughout the economic crisis. The flotilla organizers missed this development and misjudged Greece’s willingness to take their side/ As a result they were surprised to find the Greek government’s refusal to give them permits to sail as well as the Greek Coast Guard enforcing the law by bringing back any ship that tried to sail unlawfully.

    As a result of all the above factors, the flotilla boats stayed moored and the number of participants decreased as time passed. During the mooring period some protesters tried to make headlines by accusing Israel of sabotage of the mooring boats as well as blackmailing the economically weak Greek government. Another course of action was protesting outside of the embassies. A small group of Spanish protestors even managed to enter the Spanish embassy and fly the Palestinian flag form the window. Although some of these actions were reported in the media, it failed to reignite public interest as it did a year before.

    While some protestors gave up and headed back, others decide to turn their attention to the Air effort. This was an effort planned previously, in which some protesters would fly in by air and as well as organize demonstrations in the airport, they would visit the Palestinian areas. However, Israel managed to predict this move and stop the protesters either in their country of origin or upon landing. The coverage so far has been minimal and included mainly Israeli protesters, who made their way from Tel-Aviv to show solidarity and were arrested by airport security shortly for an illegal demonstration and disrupting the peace.

    While Israel could be pleased with the success of stopping another PR fiasco, it laments the fact that the demonstrations are taking needless resources and more importantly taking the attention away from issues they deem urgent such as the Iranian nuclear plan, which unlike the flotilla and protests is causing Israel genuine concern.