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.

Will Iran be another Iraq?


    Almost a decade after the West’s venture in the Middle East, the world finds itself in a similar position having to consider whether a pre-emptive military strike is the correct approach, in order ensure future global security and stability.

    Ten years following the decision to engage in military action in Iraq, the West’s armies are still committed (although slowly withdrawing) and the controversy is still alive and in many ways has redefined the people’s attitude to war and the trust in government. Therefore, in understanding Iran it is important to first look at the events in Iraq, without the media’s hysteria and sensational headlines (at times on the expense of accuracy).

    The biggest controversy is that fact that weapons of mass destructions have never been found. That claim strengthens the notion that the West was never under any threat and therefore there was no  interest for the West to get involved. The other controversy was that at the time a new UN resolution was not sought after, rather an older resolution was used, which some consider illegal. And finally the latest major point of contention is the aftermath of the war, which has seen about 110,000 deaths from military action, although mainly from sectorial violence, which followed the toppling of Saddam.

    The case to invade Iraq is argued very well in a few resources. Perhaps the most interesting and powerful argument is put forward in Tony Blair’s biographical book, where he dedicates a whole chapter to Iraq. Without repeating the argument, Tony argues that the life in Iraq before the war wasn’t much better than after the war. Different in that instead of suicide bombs and sectorial fighting, children were dying of malnutrition and lack of medicine and ethnic groups were deprived of human rights. Tony goes on to argue against Saddam’s history of violence in attacking Iran, Kuwait and more importantly using chemical warfare against his Kurdish population.

    However, many would find that all the argument against Saddam, still do not amount to a justification for war, especially since the Western world is routinely looking the other way in different regimes committing similar crimes. This then leads to an examination of the intelligence used to justify going to war.

    There is still a notion that Tony Blair lied to the people of Britain, fiddling with the intelligence to justify the move. However, the government has exposed the intelligence that was used and made it public (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/iraqwmd0903.pdf). Anyone that cares to read the report would probably conclude that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the British government’s decision. And therefore the big question is how could the intelligence get it so wrong and could it be trusted again?

    There is no reason to crucify and doubt the intelligence, as it is almost on a monthly basis that we hear that terrorist attacks are being foiled (one has to make the base assumption that the media is doing its job finding out information and would expose a situation in which the government is manufacturing these news). Evidently, the various global intelligence services have informants in the right places as well as the ability to intercept messages and collaborate, so what was so different in Iraq?

    This is where the views differ (please note these are ‘views’ not facts). One view is that Saddam saw admitting a lack of capability of WMD as a regional suicide. In a tough neighbourhood such as the Middle East it is important to have a military might, in order to affect regional policies, ensuring survival of the regime as well as economic prosperity (this would explain, why during years of sanctions and population starvation, Saddam still found the money to fund terrorist activity as well as pay bonuses to families of suicide bombers in Israel). The other view was that Saddam truly believed that the programs were progressing, however in effect he lost control of the army, who were feeding him wrong information. A third view is that the US were so eager to attack Iraq that while knowing of chemical and biological capabilities, they forged some of the intelligence on nuclear, in order to win public support. The most crucial case is that of Saddam’s attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, which seems very unreliable after Wilson’s Op-Ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) claiming he was the one that filed the  report confirming the low likelihood of Iraq signing an agreement with Niger to buy ‘Yellow Cake’.

    The war in Iraq was a political disaster to both the US and Britain. Both leaders have been accused of lying to the people. However the blow would have not been so great had it not been for the longevity of the war and the high number of deaths. Had Saddam been toppled and Iraq stabilized within months, criticism would have probably been minimal.

    However, in politics as well as warfare, not only does one not have the benefit of hindsight, but one can’t accurately assess the outcome of the road untaken.  Arguably, the sectorial fighting that took place in Iraq would have taken place today as a result of the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt and Syria all have a great deal in common with Iraq and are suffering or have suffered a similar consequence. Or even worse, perhaps not toppling Saddam would have meant that the Arab public wouldn’t have risen against their dictators. Furthermore, in defence of the decision to go into Iraq, one should not forget that it is not the army, which is killing civilians en masse, rather ethnic differences and foreign powers, which is dominated by the old Sunni – Shiite conflict.

    So now the world is faced with Iran. Similar to Iraq, Iran has decided not to cooperate with the UN, resulting in crippling sanctions, making their civilians’ lives more difficult than they should be. Furthermore, Iran is not taking any steps towards reassuring the world that their nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and while most information is hidden from the public eye, even the media catches a glimpse every now and then of disconcerting facts, such as Iran hiding the existence of the nuclear facility in Qom, the rejection of the compromise to enrich the fuel outside of Iran, advances in the development of long range missiles and most concerning the change of attitude since El-Baradei has been replaced by Amano as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) representative.

    There is little doubt that unless the world waits for advanced stages of the nuclear program, once again it will be hard to produce a “smoking gun”. However, one would think that the governments would have learned from past mistakes and run a different campaign, if action in a foreign country were to be taken.

Here are some of the mistakes that have not been addressed in Iraq and should be addressed in Iran:

–          The support of terrorism. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and so is Iran. It should not be difficult to invest in collecting proof that it is Iranian financed or Iran militia fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel as well as abroad (mainly via Hezbollah)

–            Dictator regimes, while the West cannot take the high ground on intervening with every conflict, there is no reason, why they should not intervene in certain cases. Just as there was an intervention in Kosovo to save the Muslims, purely on a humanitarian basis.

–          The UN has proved to be affected by small time international politics, a campaign needs to be done to expose such countries playing international politics rather than fulfilling their humanitarian duties (such as currently China and Russia in the case of Syria)

–          Securing the parameters, if an action is taking place in Iran, the countries have to anticipate and address the involvement of foreign powers (such as limiting across the border movements from neighbouring countries)

    Experience has shown that Iran has already decided to sacrifice its people for the bigger purpose of continuing with their plan. For example sending two war ships through the Suez Canal to Syria is another way to show defiance and give a “Business As Usual” feeling both domestically and overseas.

    The timing is crucial, since the US is going to elections in November and is therefore reluctant to commit to another war, while Israel has hinted towards a ‘point of no return’, which is said to be this spring, in which if there is no evidence of the program stopping, they will attack, not allowing Iran to secure the nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

    In the meantime, Israel is practicing warplane manoeuvres as well as drills simulating rockets hitting the center of the country and there is much talk about who is behind the mysterious killings of personnel involved in the missile and nuclear program in Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s economy is suffering with the Rial, Iran’s currency, dropping by half (the unofficial rate, which is not regulated by the government), the sanctions on oil and commerce, which will see their export revenue declining and cost of commerce increasing and the most recent blow, disconnecting them from SWIFT, the international money transfer system.

    Only time will tell whether an attack will take place and if so whether this conflict would be perceived as justified or another Iraq. However one thing is almost certain, which is the Iranians will suffer like the Iraqis did, because of their dictatorship government’s reluctance to drop their last century aggressive mentality.

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.