Israel & Palestine – The Economist got it wrong again


    Anyone who closely follows the conflicts in the Middle East in more than one medium, realizes that is that too often when covered by the mainstream Western media, a wrong  “Western filter” is applied. Unfortunately The Economist is guilty of making that presumption yet again, as well as slightly misrepresenting a few points to give a notion different from reality.

    When reading this Economist article (http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21582562-will-palestinian-rulers-gaza-strip-join-talks-their-enemies-not), one would think that the US got the timing for pushing the peace negotiations just right and this is a genuine opportunity for a reform in the Hamas and achieve a long-lasting peace, however the facts on the ground are showing a much different story.

    The first misrepresentation is the sentence “The group said more recently that it would abide by a referendum on a peace deal suggested by Mr Abbas”. As someone that researches and reads every article about Hamas in multiple languages on an almost daily basis, this has come as news to me. I am sure that a reputable publication such as The Economist wouldn’t simply make up this fact, but perhaps it has taken a quote said for a certain audience at a certain time and chose to give it more weight than it should, while ignoring regular contradicting messages. It is not unusual for Hamas or other groups to have one set of response in English for one crowd and another internally, even if this quote has been genuinely said as reported, the overall messages from Hamas have certainly not been those of accepting any deal and looking to change within, rather quite the opposite, blaming Abbas for committing a crime by collaborating with the Israelis by entering into talks.

    The second fact that has been glossed over by The Economist has been Hamas’ charter, which still calls to take over the entire land of Israel (from the River to the Sea, i.e. Tel Aviv and all other Israeli cities included) and to kill all the Jews. Of course this could be changed at any point in time, however the fact is that it has not been changed and it sits quite comfortably with the only agreement Hamas has ever been willing to genuinely accept, which is  a 10 year cease-fire, as opposed to any permanent agreement. Therefore, to ignore these facts and extract from messages coming out of Hamas a sense of a change and a willingness to move forward towards peace is extremely far-fetched and misleading.

    The Western filter which is applied, and in this case skews reality, is the notion that logic and self-preservation would prevail. This filter is what caused the world to think that the Oslo Accords would finally resolve the conflict. After all, it makes a lot more sense to accept a deal that would better your economic situation tenfold and would still allow you access to the holy sites for the price of lands, which you don’t currently inhabit anyway, rather than continuing to sink even deeper into economic dire and have your movement restricted as well as be under foreign rule. Another example would be the surprise around the election of the extremist Hamas by the people of Gaza in 2006, knowing that electing a party that calls for an uncompromizing confrontation with Israel would severely damage their quality of living and future (a fact that should have trumped the concern of the corruption of Fatah party).

    The “Western filter” could be observed regularly by both politicians and journalists when covering other cultures. For example, the inexplicable behavior of North Korea or Iran to the sanctions, which in N. Korea’s case has apparently already caused the death of millions and in the latter case, is bringing a country, which is sitting on a treasure in the form of oil down rapidly, causing some of its civilians t literally starve.

    The media’s rule is to bring the truth and apply balanced and credible interpretations to the events taking place. Unfortunately, these days in the US for example Fox and NBC have clear agendas, which clearly depicts a case of cherry picking quotes and information to support the already existing narrative.

    It is not until every claim for a change of policy would be backed up by multiple quotes to multiple audiences or facts from the ground that show a real change in policy. It is not until every interpretation of actions wouldn’t be done by the “local reporter”, rather than by an academia Subject Matter Expert. It is not until the Media regains its credibility by reporting facts in a balanced way, that we could go back to believing what we see and read. until then we would still be manipulated to think what the editors of the network think or are paid to push and it would be up to us to do the necessary research.

Not The Usual Mess In The Middle East


    The recent events in the Middle East at a glance looks like one big mess. One could think that not much in the region  makes any sense anymore. It seems that everyone is fighting everyone and historic alliances have suddenly been broken. Moreover any involvement or prediction by the West, such as the positive effects on Arab countries establishing free democractic regimes have proved to be completely wrong.

    However, if one looks at the events and the background, one could see that it was up until now that things did not make sense and now there is finally a more logical explanation to some of the oddities that were prevalent before.

    The most extreme example would be the alliance between Sunni Hamas, Shia Hezbollah, Shia Iran and Alawaite Syria. The alliance that makes sense is Shia Iran with the Shia group Hezbollah, they share the same values and sect of Islam and Iran has helped set up Hezbollah and has been its main sponsor ever since. It is perhaps slightly less obvious that the Syrian Alawaite regime is also part of this alliance. However, despite the different roots and other fundamental differences the Shias consider that sect to belong to the same stream and therefore sees it as an ally opposing the Sunni sect.

    While those alliances, even if not perfectly, could somehow be explained, what really hasn’t made sense so far has been the alliance between the Sunni group Hamas and the other Shia players. Despite the media’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is naive to think that the animosity towards Israel surpasses the age-long Shia-Sunni divide. Considering the longevity (since ancient times), number of people(1.5 billion Muslims with 10%-20% being Shia) and the religious background (fundamental difference in belief). One could be forgiven for thinking that hating Israel is no more than an excuse to rally the Muslim world around a common cause. After all, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shias saw themselves as a natural ally to the Jewish state of Israel, in its struggle against the threat of Sunni Muslims.

    In order to understand how this “small-scale” conflict could bring together two major players, it is important to look at the relations between countries in the Middle East leading up to the time.

    Before the Western intervention in the Middle East, the region was divided to tribes.There was no division of “countries”, rather everyone was Arab and there was a belonging to a tribe and/or a group of people. For example the Hashemite’s, which make up Jordan today, the Assyrians, which make up Syria…etc. After World War I, the Western intervention divided the region up and created the basis of the countries today. However, while creating countries, they bundled together some of the groups (Druze, Sunnis, Shia, Kurdish, Christian…etc.) and they did not create democracies. The intervention has left the region with countries with dictators. Over the years there have been “free elections”, however, they have not been real, as control was passed down in the family and even in cases, n which the countries went through the motions of “voting”, it cannot be considered a democracy without the other institutions such as freedom of speech, free press, separation of law and government…etc. .

    While in the West dictators are viewed as a wholly negative feature, in the Middle East there was one noticeable benefit. Since the countries that were formed were not always homogenous, the dictator had the job of keeping the people united. This of course was done via oppression of the masses, however it provided stability to those countries (many would argue it still not worth the price of oppression, however one might look at Iraq and Syria and perhaps not feel quite as strongly about it anymore).

    In many ways the “Arab Spring”  has let the cat out of the bag. The wall of fear between the rulers and the people has been broken, which made the dictators’ job of keeping the stability nearly impossible. The individuals have realized their power and conditions have been so bad that they often feel like they have nothing else to lose and are now couragously fighting for what they believe (in some cases the fighting has been kidnapped by Jihhadist groups, but this is again a matter of convinient alliances to reach a goal). A catalyst for the uprisings has of course been social media and other technical advances, which have contributed to the exposure of the masses to the outside world as well as provided a safer platform to organize and communicate.

    The tensions between the sects have been felt and somewhat exposed in the wikileaks reports. While the authenticity and sincerity in the cables should always be questioned, it was surprising to read statements such as Asad calling Hamas an unwanted guest in his country, or the eagerness the Sunni Arab nations showed in wanting the Iranian nuclear facilities to be bombed. However the events in the Arab world, namely the Arab uprisings since then have confirmed these reports, as Hamas is no longer wanted in Syria and the Sunni countries have increased their oil production to allow the West to execute the sanctions on Iran.

    In the last couple of years the situation in the Middle East changed so much that the false pretence has been broken down and the real dirty politics have come out. The Shia – Sunni conflict is in full swing and  affecting many countries. Ironically all the ethnic groups that were able to play nicely for all these years under an oppressive dictator and sympathize with, what they called, human rights violations of the Palestinians, are now mercilessly slaughtering each other not sparing women and children and seeing millions being displaced. Even Turkey that once declared a zero conflict policy is now bombing Syria as well as trying to manage the internal Kurdish conflict, involving also occasionally bombing areas in North Iraq.

    The group probably worse off from this turn of events is the Palestinians. On the one hand their plight has been pushed aside as a minor issue in light of everything else that is taking place. On the other hand, while the more pragmatic Fatah is losing its place at the top*, Hamas is gaining prestige. The visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaniof, the Emir of Qatar just shows how little the Arab countries are interested in a long viable solution in the Middle East and how much this is about alliances and politics (It is almost laughable how a minute after Syria and Iran favour the more radical groups in Gaza over Hamas, Qatar moves in and offers Hamas money and support).

    With the re-election of president Obama it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. Whereas in his first term Obama was testing the waters and making some junior mistakes as to how to handle Iran and the various revolutions, this time around things might look a little different and every foreign policy decision would no doubt, ripple across the Middle East changing the dynamics between countries and temporary allies.

    It has been said before never to attempt to predict the future in the Middle East. That statement is perhaps more true now than ever.

 

 

 

* Fatah losing its place is one of the worst things for the Palestinians as it seems that as an act of desperation Abbas will be insisting on getting a UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state, probably in order to leave his mark on history, before he is ousted. While a recognition will do nothing for the Palestinians, other than give them the ability to fight Israel legally in various UN organizations. It will mean an immediate economic collapse as the US will cease any aid and banish their representatives from Washington, as well as Israel potentially withdrawing the Oslo agreements, in which they collect tax money for them, as well allow workers into Israel.

The Heart of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


There is a conception amongst people, who learn about the Israeli Palestinian conflict from the media, that the negotiations are not going on because the Palestinians have set a condition to stop the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and Israel would not or is unable to comply. This statement is partially true, however, anyone thinking that this is the heart of the conflict or that the ongoing settlement is the issue that needs to be tackled is missing the most important point altogether.

The conflict started well before the Second World War, when Jews started arriving to Israel from Europe. It is important to mention that there were already Jews in the land, however they were a minority at the time (The fact they were a minority was a result multiple expulsions from foreign rulers such Shalmaneser V,  Nebuchadnezzar II, the Greeks, the Romans, etc). Since historically there has always been  friction between Jews and Arabs,  due to the different faiths, manifesting itself in the violence and discrimination in the Arab lands where Jews lived, the Arabs were already wary of the immigration and the prospect of becoming a minority in the future.

Due to the Arab’s fear, in the beginning of the 1900’s the local Arabs fought both on the ground and politically trying to restrict the arrival of Jews to the land. Following the Balfour declaration of making the land the home of the Jews, they put great pressure on the British mandated ruler to stop the Jewish population growth by restricting Jewish immigration.

The British realising that this is a problem set up the Peel Commission to find ways to settle the dispute. The gist of the commission’s conclusions, after conducting a thorough investigation including interviewing leading figures on both sides, was that it is not likely that Jews and local Arabs would be able to live side by side. There is an animosity between them and as Arabs would not be happy living under a Jewish rule, the Jews would not be happy living under an Arab rule (the Zionist movement’s aim was to establish a Jewish leadership rather than returning to being a minority under a foreign rule). Therefore the most conceivable conclusion would be to divide the land to Jewish and Arab.

It would be unfair to history to claim that the Jews happily accepted the Peel Commission’s conclusions. It is reported that some of the Jewish leaders who came had big plans to turn the entire land to be their own. Backed up by European consent and their biblical and historical ties to the land, they believed that it was their  right to live on the land and turn it completely to a Jewish state, where Jews could return and be free. According to historians such as Ben Morris, it was the start of  WW II and other practical reasons that made the Jewish leadership realise that the ambition of owning the whole state is unachievable and therefore agree to a territorial division.

On the Palestinian side things were viewed quite differently. They did not want a Jewish state on the land. The Palestinian leadership wanted to maintain the Arab majority, which rules over the Jews, who were present prior to the European immigration. When Britain suggested the division, the Jews accepted it, while the Palestinians refused. When the UN voted on the partition plan in 29 of November 1947, the Jewish representatives accepted it and curbed the “Revisionists” groups, who claimed that land compromises should not be made. The Palestinians on the other hand rejected the vote and declared a war, described by some of their leaders as a war of extermination. Ultimately and possibly against all odds the Arab nations lost the war and Israel was founded.

Since the founding of Israel the Palestinians have rejected the idea of a Jewish rule. Even after their big defeat in the six days war in 1967 they were adamant to rule the whole land and accordingly they replied to peace talks with the conclusion of their conference in Khartoum in Sudan with the famous 3 no’s (No to peace, no to negotiation and no to recognition  of Israel).

The fear Israeli rulers have always had is that the Palestinians are adhering to what has become known as the “Phased Plan”. This plan is claimed to be the Palestinian pragmatic strategy, which is attributed by some historians to the “moderate” Palestinian leaders. This approach, as stated in the PLO resolution in 1974, involves accepting a settlement to establish a Palestinian Statehood, however then to continue an armed struggle, until the entire land is liberated. This resolution has been talked about and agreements have been made to change it (during the Oslo Accords), however it has never been modified.

The fear of Israel that making concessions would not lead to peace, rather give the Palestinians a better grounding to continue their struggle has dominated  several negotiations and peace conferences between Israel and Palestinians. In some of these talks some breakthroughs have been made, resulting in Israel handing over control over land and cooperation, however they always side-stepped two main issues: Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

Jerusalem is a complex issue as a holy place to three religions, neither party wants to hand over control, there have already been suggestions on how to resolve it (for example an international rule or division of the city to East and West sections), however, no one has had the courage or deemed it is the right time to take this big step.

The second point about the refugees goes straight into the heart of the issue and is possibly never properly explained in the mainstream media. The Palestinians demand justice for their people by allowing them to return to their houses, which they fled as part of the conflict. Even though many of the people are already dead, they deem their descendants have the right to return. On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable request, which would help the Palestinian feel that justice has been done and therefore accept a long-term settlement. However in reality this issue causes great concern to Israel and is much more complex.

In 1948 there were an estimated 7000,000 refugees that fled the land. In 2012 their descendants are estimated to be just under 5 million. If those 5 million return to Israel and therefore become citizens, the Arabs would immediately  become a political majority and Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish State. Therefore this request, which is often presented as a minor dispute over territory, in its current capacity trumps any talks, as land division would be meaningless, if Israel loses its Jewish majority and hence Jewish rule.

Once the Jews become a minority two scenarios are likely to occur. In the first scenario, the Arab rule will preside and Israel will become a country made of two major ethnic groups. Judging on the treatment of other religions such as Christianity in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries such as Egypt as well as the experience of the jews who have fled from Arab countries,  the future is looking very bleak. Especially with the recent re-birth of Islamic rule as a result of the Arab uprisings, which is sweeping the region.

The second scenario is that the Jews would maintain their rule and preserve their values. However, preserving their values and rules is compatible with being a minority in this situation, as one of the main values of Israel is a free democracy. In order for the Jews to preserve control, they would have to employ tactics of an Apartheid country, something which would find many opposers both internationally and at home.

The repercussions of the demographics on Israel may at times sound like a conspiracy theory, as there are some assumptions made such as all refugees would choose to return, all Arabs will vote the same…etc. However considering the military balance, whichgives Israel the upper hand inthe region, it is the Palestinians’ best prospect to regain control of the whole land. It is then no surprise that many of Israel’s harshest critics such as Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway and other Palestinian figures have abandoned the two state solution and are calling for a one state.

Since the Palestinian refugees right to return issue is far from being resolved, the prospect for an imminent peace is minimal if not non-existent. So, it is unlikely to be any progress, before the Palestinian leadership and the international community would address specifically what rights the Palestinian refugees should get, using as a basis the other refugees in the world, who have been settled after a conflict, possibly starting with the Jews who fled Arab countries.

Arab Spring Turning into a Bitingly Cold Winter


 

    As the winter months are upon us and in the Northern Hemisphere we feel the cold weather, so do we start to realize the true error of what we called the “Arab Spring”. The term Arab Spring is based on the “Spring of the Nations”, which took place in 1848. It was in fact a series of revolutions which took place in the world, without any apparent central coordination and opposed the multi-national empires. The revolutions extended achievements are somewhat debated, but it was certainly a big step towards giving every country more power to rule itself.

    The Arab Spring started in a somewhat similar way, while there was no apparent central coordination; people in the street rose against their absolute leader and demanded more control. However, unfortunately, this is where most of the similarities end. Unlike Europe and the world at the time, the Middle East did not have a limited number of empires that ruled the region. In fact it was quite the opposite, each country in the Middle East has/had its own ruler and the revolution was never about breaking the rulings into smaller chunks, so that the leader truly represents the local interests.

     In the Middle East the countries already have local rulers, who were supposed to look after the local interests. The real dispute is whether they were actually doing it, as well as the fact that they could not be replaced by a democratic procedure, if they weren’t.

    When the Egyptians started gathering in Tahrir Square, many people criticized Obama for not responding quickly enough to the government crackdown. The “common wisdom” accused him for not doing so, because of Mubarak’s positive attitude towards the West. However, while that might be partly true, there is another bigger issue. Like many others, Obama didn’t know who would come next. While accepting that democracy is a positive process as a whole, Obama like many other leaders appreciated that true democracy is not something achieved overnight.

    Many people consider democracy the act of the people putting ballots into voting boxes and then giving the power to he/she with the most votes, however, this is where most people are mistaken. The action of voting is merely allowing people to participate, however democracy cannot exist without other institutions to support it. For example, how could people form their opinion with the absence of freedom of press? If no mass medium is reporting objectively on what is really happening how could people judge the candidates or their policy? Or even be aware that things could be different?

    Another institution, whose presence is essential, is the Court of Law. How could anyone seek justice or expect the country to be run fairly, when there isn’t a truly independent body that serves as a judge on matters that might be uncomfortable for the government to bear? In a way an objective media can exist only in a country where the law enforcement and courts are fair and independent and therefore can protect it from unfair censorship or retribution.

    While some institutions are missing from democracy, there are some whose presence is a hindrance, for example religion. When religion becomes a political power, democracy is damaged, since in some cases people are made to vote as religion dictates rather than what they truly believe in. Having religious involvement in politics is an issue that can be seen in Western democracies as well. In the Middle East for example, it is said that Israel is getting to a dangerous point, where the religious population is inclined to vote in accordance with the religious leaders, which is hampering the democratic process. It could be argued that it is the people’s choice to become religious, however there are plenty of examples to refute that and argue against its participation in the process of democratic elections. Another worrying example would be the US, which also has a large element of religious votes, however there it is also based on values and there is a true separation between religion and state.

    Returning to the concept of the 1848 Spring of Nations, while in 1848 the countries fought a separate local rule in the Arab Spring, it seems that the end result is turning out to be quite the opposite. In the Arab world, it seems that the religious parties are gaining more power and it is actually more likely that the Muslim Brotherhood movement would have a continuum of control across borders, as they win the majority in every country. Bizarrely this is very reminiscent of the Al-Qaeda goal to have a single Muslim Caliphate rule for region. So in some ways, the partial democracy taking place in the Middle East is pushing the region further away from the West in terms of ideology and consequently commerce and culture.

    However, while the revolutions are taking place and governments are changing, one must remember that in the Middle East many things are in play and therefore do not always seem logical to a Western eye.  As the US is ramping up its pressure on Iran, putting it under more economic constraint and possibly stopping its nuclear power, the result might invoke a regime change and possibly a decline as a key player for the foreseeable future. In the same breath it could be argued that despite the militant stance the Al-Nour  (Al Qaeda inspired Salafi party in Egypt) and the Muslim Brotherhood, have declared in their election campaign, once they start to govern they will find it difficult to give up the US financial aid ($1.5 billon a year according to Forbes magazine), as well as see tourism dithers as a result of their Muslim stance and Westen-phobia, so will become less radical.  Syria has not yet collapsed and the recent talk of a Hamas “kiss and make-up” deal, may harm Hamas and Hezbollah more than they think as Asad loses more legitimacy and sees his army taking more beatings from the rebel army.  This will no doubt have a ripple effect on Lebanon and the Israel/Palestine conflict, which may have a ripple effect on other aspects as well.

 

    So predicting which player will rise, which player will fall and what will the reality look like, once the dust has settled, is currently anyone’s guess.

Abdullah’s dilemma


The images of watching another tyrant being toppled last week are probably still fresh in any news following person in the world. The images shown were very graphic of a leader who was once carrying himself arrogantly and confidently being pulled out of an underground hole like an animal, only to be at the mercy of the people he once ruled over with an iron fist. Gaddafi in the footage didn’t look very different to Saddam Hussain, although Saddam had the benefit of being captured by the American soldiers and therefore stood trial before being executed.

    These clips shown over and over on the different websites as well as news channels must be especially alarming to the leaders of the Arab world, who know that the wind can blow the other way at any moment. While Iran has quite a resilient ruling system, which would be hard to topple (as seen after the previous botched elections), it knows that if the US pushes tougher economic sanctions, this could be the catalyst that would undermine their control. Bashar El-Asad knows that he is probably the next in line, as his country is already engulfed in mayhem and even if he manages to work a miracle, his rule would most probably never again be as absolute as it was.

    In the article https://middleeastinterpreter.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/arab-spring-or-western-winter it was discussed that the countries most likely to undergo a successful Arab Spring revolt were not the monarchies, rather the countries that are being ruled by the aftermath of a military coup (Egypt, Libya, Syria and to some extent Turkey). Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait…etc. have so far all been spared a genuine overthrow threat and it seems that they might be see it safely to the other side this time around.

    However despite being also being a monarchy, Jordan is a special case and it has reasons to worry.

    Jordan is currently ruled by King Abdullah, who took the reins from his father, King Hussain.  Hussain ruled the country from the 1950s to 1999. Under the last two kings many political reforms were made and the country enjoyed relative advancement as it has always “played ball” with the US and UN, especially noticeable in 1994, when it signed a peace agreement with Israel.

    Despite the relative stability and the fact that Jordan does not fit the mold of a country vulnerable to the Arab Spring, Jordan has always had strong undercurrents of revolution. Jordan’s ethnic groups include more than 50% people of Palestinian decent. Out of the population of roughly 6 million, this is more Palestinian than currently in the Palestinian territories taken by Israel in1967. Moreover, had Jordan not returned the West Bank to Israel, there would have been more Palestinians than Jordanian’s in the land, which would have led to a minority rule (similar to the Alouwaites ruling over Sunnis in Syria).

    Throughout Jordan’s history the Palestinian Liberation Front, which resided in its borders grew stronger with time and apart from dragging the fighting with the Israeli Defense Force into Jordanian land, it also challenged the rule of King Hussain. The Palestinians almost created a state within a state and there are also reports of failed assassination attempts of King Hussain. All these events led to establishing a couple of agreements between the PLO and the Monarchy, in an attempt to reach a workable system. However, when those failed to maintain order, King Hussain launched an operation known as Black September (in 1970), in which the Palestinian militants were crushed, killing thousands and driving the PLO out of Jordan.

    During the years of 1970 and 1971, King Hussain’s throne was at a genuine threat as the Palestinians leaders called for a revolt against the ruler. While Hussain managed to successfully destroy the mutiny (at the price of estimated thousands of dead), the potential for a resurrection of the conflict was never completely obliterated.

    King Abdullah has followed his father’s way by keeping the peace with Israel and avoiding getting stuck in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However due to the strong historical connection between the Palestinians and Jordan, while keeping out, he has a vested interest to keep the Palestinian attention away from his country.

    So unlike some of the country heads in the Middle East, who are quietly joining the Western opposition to global Jihad, which may one day undermine their rule, as it attempts to achieve one Caliphate rule across the Middle East, Jordan has a much more imminent threat of its rule being undermined by Palestinians.

    The best possible outcome for Jordan would be a long lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in which most Palestinians’ demands would be met, in order to satiate their appetite for more land but also to restrict their right to arm themselves, in order to avoid them becoming a regional threat.

    The worst case scenario would be a weak position against Israel, which may turn the Palestinians’ efforts to Jordan or make Jordan on the receiving end of more fallout, i.e. more displaced Palestinians settling in its borders. While not imminent, both scenarios are not impossible and at a time when the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, paranoia is not an irrelevant consideration in determining foreign policy.

    Another possible gloom scenario for Jordan would be the ethnic awakening of Palestinians in Jordan, wishing to do away with the monarchy and go to democratic elections. It is apparent to every ruler these days that technology can provide a platform to revolt and organize, while the violent methods employed in the past could no longer be hidden or tolerated for a length of time due to that same technology.

    It is no surprise, therefore, that the message coming from Jordan is criticizing the Israeli government for not wanting real peace and demanding that they make more concessions. King Abdullah has recently stepped up the pressure in the media, calling for more leniency from the Israeli government, openly doubting Netanyahu’s genuine interest to compromise for peace as well as questioning the stability of Israel’s peace agreements with its neighbors. All in an effort to make sure things are moving in the right direction to serve Jordan’s interests with no sudden turns. There are also indications that Jordan is giving the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, more maneuvering room by allowing him into Jordan (although officially for humanitarian reasons), this perhaps could indicate that there is a level of communication and influence happening between Jordan and Hamas away from the eye of the media.

    As for Jordan coping with the internal upheaval, so far the protests have been around corruption and mainly the poor economic situation, prompting King Abudllah to dismiss the cabinet and replace the PM. There has, so far, not been a real threat to the monarchy and none of the usual worrying symptoms, such high ranking generals defecting, have been on the cards.

    King Abdullah probably wasn’t lying when he said in his CNN interview “what keeps me up at night… is actually poverty and unemployment and the economic crisis.” But he didn’t go into detail about what this situation may bring to Jordan and his rule.  If King Abdullah is not successful in maintaining the peace in his country, we could expect a ripple effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he takes action to keep the plague away from his country.

Shalit’s Release and Other Symptoms


    When astrophysicists investigate the stars they rarely get to witness an event. Sometimes the events are too slow or two fast, but often they do not possess the right tools to give them a clear vision of the object. Despite the limitations, the worlds’ scientists have still made far reaching discoveries. The method they employ is looking at the effect on the other objects. For example by investigating the path of visible surrounding stars they can estimate where gravity is applied and therefore can determine whether there is  star hidden from view or an event such as a supernova has taken place that distorted the expected alignment.

    The Middle East is not so different in this respect. Many of the events are not witnessed, since there is no free press and certainly no access to private meetings between the leaders. Therefore, to decipher what is going on behind the false facade, one must look at the events around and extrapolate the root cause.

    Perhaps the most significant event to take place this week was the agreement of Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of some 1000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Shalit has been in Hamas’ custody for over five years and talks have never progressed to the stage of release. There have been many reports about the negotiations and the involved parties, such as the German negotiator, however always resulting in a breakdown and both sides blaming the other.

    So what has changed this time? Certainly not the negotiation terms, but it seems that everything else that is happening around. Israel published a strong stance on not releasing any prisoners who have been convicted for murder of Israelis. This was most likely a negotiation tactic, as Hamas would not be able to politically afford releasing Shalit without getting in return some of their prisoners, who have been convicted for life, however Israel did not release prominent figures such as Baragouti and Saadat, who could become key people back in Gaza or the West Bank. Hamas, no doubt, was pushing very hard to release those prisoners, but decided to give up this claim. There has also been a dispute on how many prisoners would be banished from the Palestinian territories, reportedly this was a major dispute in the last round of talks, it is apparent now that Israel conceded slightly, but not gave away that demand.

    The events of the negotiation are directly related to Asad’s rule. Since the Arab Spring reached Syria, Asad’s status has been grossly undermined. The two major factors that are contributing to him staying in power are the fact that most of his generals are still in support of him, unlike in Egypt or Libya, where the close generals turned on their leader, which marked the end, and that Russia and China have been protecting him from any veto in the UN, which would result in a possible NATO attack or more likely sanctions imposed on the regime globally (rather than just US and EU currently).

    Asad’s undermining has consequently damaged Hamas’ status, which he supports heavily. Hamas’ leadership sits in Syria and enjoys freedom of movement as well as an open route used to coordinate support from Iran. The price Hamas pays for Asad’s patronage is unequivocally supporting his regime. This support has already backfired, when Hamas organized for Palestinian refugees to flood the Israeli border in order to create a distraction from the internal Syrian conflict. This unfortunately for Hamas and Asad led to many Palestinian deaths, which in return caused an uprising and subsequently violence between Syria’s army and the Palestinians. So much so, that Hamas in Gaza openly criticized Asad, a gesture that was not well received by its strategic ally Iran.

    Had things stayed as they are Hamas would have probably still been playing the stalling game in regards to Shalit’s release, since time actually was on their side. In Israel the government was under increasing pressure to release Shalit with various gestures aimed to remind the politicians that he is still in captivity. This pressure played straight into Hamas’ hands, who were seen by the Arab world as defiant to Israel, while playing psychological warfare on the Israeli public, by publicizing paintings of Shalit in captivity and often making reference to the government’s reluctance to progress the deal. However, this week Hamas has decided to end this episode and play their most powerful card in the pack. A very likely reason could be that Hamas is seeing the end of their operation in Damascus and are now seeking to boost their support and legitimacy before they find a different regime that would allow them to operate from its territory. If this assumption turns out to be true, then it is definitely a sign of Asad’s regime volatility and vote of no confidence from the Hamas’s leadership.

    Although less in the limelight, but also significant was the reported tensions within the Lebanese coalition, mainly between Hezbollah and Jumblatt, as reported by local Lebanese newspapers. Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which is secular and mainly representing the Druzes ethnicity in Lebanon. The party’s ideology is in great conflict with the religious Syrian supported party Hezbollah, which is why it was a shock to learn that Jumblatt lent his support to Hezbollah, when they voted Saad Hariri’s government out of power, after his insistence of supporting the UN’s investigation of the assassination of his father (STL).

    Jumblatt starting to make demands on Hezbollah is a clear indication of his belief that their position has been significantly damaged. Other than the pending UN investigation, which will no doubt have some consequences in the international community and internally, the most likely reason would be a weakening of the Syrian government, who currently supplies them with arms, which has made them effectively stronger than Lebanon’s national army.

    These symptoms both show a significant shift away from Asad’s rule and it is leaving less and less doubt that Asad’s time is limited. One of his officers, Colonel Riyad El-Asad, has already started an opposition army and it seems that it is only a matter time until senior officers would follow suit. What is not surprising is that Asad keeps fighting and will do so until the end. Considering he is of the Alawaite faction, which is a clear minority in a predominantly Sunni country, means that the Alawaites are likely to lose their status for a long period of time (nothing is forever in the Middle East) and the tactics used by his father, to violently crush down on any attempt of revolt, cannot be done internally and quietly as in the past, since now every person with a phone can easily upload uncensored images to the web.

    Perhaps only a frivolous man would put a timeline on Asad’s fate, but a reasonable one would predict his demise. The next steps to watch out for is for more allies distancing themselves from Asad and more army personnel defecting or turning against him, but until that happens, we will keep getting reports about tenths of opposition demonstrators being killed almost on a daily basis.

What’s So Bad About A UN Recognition Of Palestine


    The columnist community of the written media have been dealing excessively with the Palestinian bid for recognition in the UN. Many of them, as a the reputable magazine  The Economist support the application and believe that the expected US veto in the Security Council is the wrong move.

    In Israel, too, some prominent left wing Israelis support the recognition of Palestinian state, however, despite the similarities in some reasoning there are some core differences to ones stated in The Economist. At the heart of the justifications in The Economist is the claim that there is already a Palestinian country de facto, after all both statements of Netanyahu and Obama call for a two state solution, so why oppose and risk the inevitable violence following a failed Palestinian statehood application? The Israeli supporters on the other hand, claim that with the advantages of having a UN recognized State come responsibilities, which may consequently stop the violence by Hamas in Gaza as well as bring the return of the kidnapped soldier Shalit held by Hamas.

Other diplomats around Europe would also like to see the solution come to an end, especially now with the emergence of the Arab Spring, as in their opinion brokering a deal in the Middle East could put Europe back in the center, as well as impede the extremist Muslim movement at home.

    The Palestinians on their part though are not united behind the decision. Hamas is opposed to the move, mainly because of being excluded from the process and probably the uncertainty that would be created, if the recognition is successful. Hamas are also very aware of the political price they would have to pay if after everything that the people of Gaza have been through as a result of their extreme policies, it is the moderate Fatah government in the West Bank that accomplishes this historic achievement.

While the media is already reporting which countries have announced support to the application, which countries are still dithering and which oppose the move, the content of the proposal has not yet been exposed. The expected solution formula is most probably the talked about proposal, in which there would be two states based on the 1967 border lines with agreed land swaps. However one of the elements of the negotiations is to agree the finer details of the land swaps. It is not known at this point what land swaps are in the proposal if any, however it is safe to assume that the Abbas is not going to draw something that would put Palestinian in a disadvantage and likely to assume that the Palestinians would benefit more from his output than the Israelis. The border is merely one topic of dispute, as the negotiations between the countries are also around Jerusalem, the water supplies, the right to return of the refugees around the world, the accepted Palestinian army configuration in the new Palestinian state, as well as other logistic and security issues that Israel would demand to be adequately addressed.

    Needless to say the automatic majority achieved by the Palestinians before providing any content, already shows the downside of the UN decision system, as the expectation would be at least that every country would read the proposal carefully and consider whether it would have a good influence on the Palestinians and the region or not.

    The Israeli government is very much opposed to the proposal. The reasons are numerous from the uncertainty the move brings to the obvious impact of having to deal with a UN recognized Palestinian state. The Palestinians are already enjoying wide support by the different voting blocks in the UN comprised mainly of African and Arab countries, this situation may get worse for Israel, if the Palestinians are allowed to sit on committees and claim to be heard in places like the Hague’s International Court. Whether the court would proves to be fair or biased, like the different committees in the UN, is to be seen, however it is almost certain that the Israeli government would have to spend significant effort in defending itself for actions it sees as necessary security measures.

    Another aspect troubling the Israeli government in this application is the apparent loss in the political arena. To understand this concept one has to look at the negotiations as a process rather than the immediate future. Up until 1967 Israel’s biggest problems have been external, they fought the Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis Jordanians…etc. However, since 1967 the problems have become mainly internal. The Palestinian settlement dispute was transferred from a Jordanian and Egyptian problem to an Israeli one and with the lack of any official army to surrender, despite military superiority, Israel has been fighting a losing battle. Israel has been continuously giving up land and slowly withdrawing as its public is weary of fighting and a greater divide is created, in which, some people turn to the left, wishing to get on with their lives and hope for the other side to do the same, once their declared goals are achieved, while others turn to the right, as they want to see more force and determination in bringing this conflict to an end.

    The Palestinians on the other hand are playing a different and much slower game. It is embedded in every Palestinian child that a Palestinian state will be achieved however long it takes (this fact is entirely visible through various surveys done or studies conducted looking at the culture in schools, mosques and TV).  From a Palestinian point of view, a state could be achieved by an overtime demographic change, military means or simple small scale terrorism causing erosion to Israel. While Israel can control the flames of the conflict to a degree, they cannot reach closure and (despite various claims) ethnic cleansing is not an option at their disposal. Therefore, the only means of pressure Israel can apply on the Palestinians is by a gradual increase of settlements, which is eating into their land, if they stall. In the same way that terrorist activity is counter-productive to a peace process, but is seen as a mean to apply pressure, Settlements are also a mean to apply pressure albeit a more humane one that could be easily reversed (this is one of the reasons as to why Netanyahu rejected an additional freeze of building settlements, worrying that it might become a given expectation).

   Judging on the way the UN is operating Israel’s concerns are probably valid, as the UN various committees have shown so much biased and corrupt voting that more UN intervention in the region could only be bad news for Israel.

    In trying to understand the conflict and the possible resolution it would probably make sense to turn back to the words of Golda Meir former Prime Minister of Israel, as she reflected on her time in power in September 1974:

I asked this question multiple times like a parrot and no one has answered [about] when they say that if we move to the 67 lines things will be OK. Gentlemen, where were we situated in 67? Did we not stand behind the 67 [border] lines? Why then was there a war. After 56 the “Kadesh Operation” following torments of 4.5 months in the UN, we behaved like good boys. We evacuated Sinai, we evacuated Sharam El Sheik, Gaza, everything, so? What happened? Why was there a war on the 67 borders? So this formula of peace in exchange for land, it sounds pretty, I think people that say it surely believe in it, but it is not true. This isn’t what it is about. It is very possible that we will still need to fight in the future, since I don’t believe that you can buy peace with territories. You can buy peace when the Arabs, or the Arab leaders will reach the conclusion that we cannot be terminated and they need to live with us

The statement above supports the theory that it is not the land swaps that would create peace, nor is it the recognition of a Palestinian state. True peace would come only when both sides come to truly accept each other. Unfortunately until there is a change of mindset in the Middle East by all countries about having a Jewish State in the region, or countries like Iran actively promoting hatred against Israel on political as well religious grounds the chances of anything moving in a positive direction are depressingly slim.