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The Palestinians’ Real Enemies

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For most of the twentieth century, inter-Arab politics were dominated by the doctrine of pan-Arabism, postulating the existence of “a single nation bound by the common ties of language, religion and history.

… behind the facade of a multiplicity of sovereign states”;[1] and no single issue dominated this doctrine more than the “Palestine question” with anti-Zionism forming the main common denominator of pan-Arab solidarity and its most effective rallying cry. But the actual policies of the Arab states have shown far less concern for pan-Arab ideals, let alone for the well-being of the Palestinians, than for their own self-serving interests. Indeed, nothing has done more to expose the hollowness of pan-Arabism than its most celebrated cause.

Denying Palestinian Nationalism

Consider, for instance, Emir Faisal ibn Hussein of Mecca, the celebrated hero of the “Great Arab Revolt” against the Ottoman Empire and the effective leader of the nascent pan-Arab movement. Together with his father and his older brother Abdullah, Faisal placed Palestine on the pan-Arab agenda by (falsely) claiming that they had been promised the country in return for their anti-Ottoman rising. In January 1919, he signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann, head of the Zionists, supporting the November 1917 Balfour Declaration on the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine and the adoption of “all necessary measures … to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale.”[2] Yet when the opportunity for self-aggrandizement arose, in March 1920, he had himself crowned king of Syria “within its natural boundaries, including Palestine.” Had either option been realized, Palestine would have disappeared from the international scene at that time.

Nor did Faisal abandon his grand ambitions after his expulsion from Damascus by the French in July 1920. Quite the reverse, using his subsequent position as Iraq’s founding monarch, he toiled ceaselessly to bring about the unification of the Fertile Crescent under his rule. This policy was sustained after his untimely death in September 1933 by successive Iraqi leaders, notably by Nuri Said, Faisal’s comrade-in-arms and a long-time prime minister. In the summer of 1936, Said sought to convince Palestine’s Arab and Jewish communities, as well as the British government, to agree to the country’s incorporation into a pan-Arab federation, and six years later, he published a detailed plan for pan-Arab unification (known as the Blue Book) that envisaged that “Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan shall be reunited into one state.”[3]

The scheme was vigorously opposed by Abdullah, who strove to transform the emirate of Transjordan (latterly Jordan), which he had ruled since 1921, into a springboard for the creation of a “Greater Syrian” empire comprising Syria, Palestine, and possibly, Iraq and Saudi Arabia; and it was the Arab states’ determination to block this ambition and to avail themselves of whatever parts of Palestine they could that underlay the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth. This, on the face of it, was a shining demonstration of pan-Arab solidarity; in reality, it was a scramble for Palestinian territory in the classic imperialist tradition. As Arab League secretary-general Abdel Rahman Azzam admitted to a British reporter, Abdullah “was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. [The] Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon if its inhabitants opted for it by a referendum [i.e., the inhabitants of the said coastal strip].”[4]

Had Israel lost the war, its territory would have been divided among the invading Arab forces. The name Palestine would have vanished into the dustbin of history. By surviving the pan-Arab assault, Israel has paradoxically saved the Palestinian national movement from complete oblivion.

Manipulating the Palestinian Cause

Having helped drive the Palestinians to national ruin, the Arab states continued to manipulate the Palestinian national cause to their own ends. Neither Egypt nor Jordan allowed Palestinian self-determination in the parts of Palestine they occupied during the 1948 war. Upon occupying the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, Abdullah moved to erase all traces of corporate Palestinian Arab identity. On April 4, 1950, the territory was formally annexed to Jordan to be subsequently known as the “West Bank” of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Its residents became Jordanian citizens, and they were increasingly integrated into the kingdom’s economic, political, and social structures. And while Egypt showed no desire to annex the occupied Gaza Strip, this did not imply support of Palestinian nationalism or of any sort of collective political awareness among the Palestinians. The refugees were kept under oppressive military rule, were denied Egyptian citizenship, and were subjected to severe restrictions on travel. “The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are,” President Gamal Abdel Nasser candidly responded to an enquiring Western reporter. “We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean!”[5] Had these territories not come under Israel’s control during the June 1967 war, their populations would have lost whatever vestiges of Palestinian identity they retained since 1948. For the second time in two decades, Israel unwittingly salvaged the Palestinian national cause.

Nor was Syria more sympathetic to the idea of Palestinian statehood. During his brief presidency (April-August 1949), Husni Zaim proposed the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Syria in return for financial and political gain while Hafez Assad (1970-2000), who as late as September 1974 described Palestine as “a basic part of southern Syria,”[6] was a persistent obstacle to Palestinian self-determination. He pledged allegiance to any solution amenable to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—appointed by the Arab League in October 1974 as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”—so long as it did not deviate from the Syrian line advocating Israel’s destruction. Yet when in November 1988, the PLO pretended to accept the November 1947 partition resolution (and by implication to recognize Israel’s existence) so as to end its ostracism by the United States,[7] Syria immediately opposed the move. The PLO then took this pretense a step further by signing the September 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-government Arrangements (DOP) with Israel. This provided for Palestinian self-rule in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip for a transitional period of up to five years, during which Israel and the Palestinians would negotiate a permanent peace settlement. But the Syrian regime strongly condemned the declaration while the Damascus-based Palestinian terrorist, Ahmad Jibril, threatened PLO chairman Yasser Arafat with death.

A no less instrumental approach was exhibited by Saddam Hussein, another self-styled pan-Arab champion whose professed allegiance to the Palestinian cause was matched by a long history of treating that cause with indifference, if not outright hostility. Saddam stood firmly against Iraqi intervention to aid the Palestinians in Jordan during the “Black September” of 1970 and subsequently sought to exclude Palestinians from coming to work in Iraq’s booming, oil-rich economy. Though a vociferous critic of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat for reaching a separate peace with Israel in 1979, Saddam quickly reconsidered when he needed Egyptian military aid in his war against Iran (1980-88), toiling tirelessly for Cairo’s readmission into the Arab fold. Nor was Saddam deterred from collaborating with Israel against Syrian interests in Lebanon (to punish Assad for his support of Tehran in its war against Baghdad), or from seeking sophisticated Israeli military equipment.[8] In 1984, at a time of pressure due to the war with Iran, he went so far as to voice public support for peace negotiations with the Jewish state, emphasizing that “no Arab leader looks forward to the destruction of Israel” and that any solution to the conflict would require “the existence of a secure state for the Israelis.”[9]

This support, to be sure, did not prevent Saddam from attempting to link his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait to the Palestine problem. During the months of negotiations with the Kuwaitis before the invasion, Saddam made no mention of Palestine. Once confronted with a firm international response, he immediately opted to “Zionize” the crisis by portraying his predatory move as the first step toward “the liberation of Jerusalem.” But this pretense made no impression whatsoever on most Arab states, which dismissed the spurious link as the ploy it obviously was and fought alongside the West to liberate Kuwait.

Nor did the anti-Iraq coalition collapse when Saddam, in a desperate bid to widen the conflict, fired thirty-nine Scud missiles at Israel—a move cheered by the Palestinians and by demonstrators in marginal states such as Yemen but otherwise greeted with conspicuous calm by the proverbially restive “Arab street.” Not a single Arab regime was swept from power following its participation in the war, with the war even producing an ad hoc tacit alliance between Israel and the Arab members of the anti-Saddam coalition: Israel kept the lowest possible profile, eschewing retaliation for Iraq’s missile attacks while the latter highlighted the hollowness of Saddam’s pan-Arab pretenses by sustaining the war operations against Baghdad.[10]

If anything, it was the Palestinians who paid a heavy price for their entanglement in the conflict as the PLO’s endorsement of the Iraqi occupation led to its ostracism by the Arab world and the postwar expulsion of most of the 400,000 Palestinians who had been living and working in Kuwait.[11] So much for pan-Arab solidarity with “the sole representative of the Palestinian people.”

Unwanted Guests

The political manipulation of the Palestinian cause was mirrored by the dismal treatment of the Palestinian refugees based in Arab states since the 1948 war. Far from being welcomed, the new arrivals were seen as an unpatriotic and cowardly lot who had shamefully abdicated their national duty while expecting others to fight on their behalf, and this attitude was entrenched and institutionalized over time. Yet with their desire to offload their Palestinian guests matched by the lingering dream of Israel’s destruction, the Arab states as well as the Palestinian leadership rejected U.N. General Assembly resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, which conditioned repatriation on the attainment of comprehensive peace and partial refugee resettlement in the host Arab states.[12] The resolution’s subsequent transformation into the cornerstone of an utterly spurious claim to a “right of return” has only served to perpetuate the refugee problem as the Arab states used this “right” as a pretext to prevent Palestinian assimilation into their societies in anticipation of their eventual return to their homeland.

Nowhere has this state of affairs been more starkly illustrated than in Lebanon, the most liberal Arab state up until the mid-1970s. Fearful lest the burgeoning and increasingly radicalized Palestinian population (which grew from 100,000 in 1948 to about 500,000 in 2012)[13] undermine the country’s fragile confessional edifice, the authorities barred its incorporation into Lebanon’s social, political, and economic structures. As a result, the vast majority of Palestinians have remained stateless refugees with more than half living in abject poverty in twelve squalid and overcrowded camps (another five camps were destroyed during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90), administered by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), created in 1949 for the exclusive relief of Palestinian Arab refugees.[14]

Camp residents or not, Lebanese Palestinians have been excluded from numerous walks of life and spheres of activity due to their alien status; and unlike other foreign residents who can evade this discrimination by virtue of their countries’ reciprocity treaties with Lebanon, the stateless Palestinians can claim no such rights and have consequently been singled out for distinct mistreatment including severe restrictions on travel, property ownership, and ability to work. For decades, they were barred by government decree from more than seventy professions, from doorkeepers, to mechanics, to file clerks, to schoolteachers, to personnel managers; and while the ministry of labor lifted the ban on fifty professions in June 2005, the actual application of this measure has been haphazard at best. Likewise, only 2 percent of Palestinians took advantage of the August 2010 legislation aimed at improving their access to the official labor market and the social security benefit system with Lebanese law still barring Palestinians from at least twenty-five professions requiring syndicated membership (such as law, medicine, and engineering) and discriminating against their work and social conditions (e.g., Palestinians are underpaid in comparison to Lebanese workers for performing the same jobs and overpay for their pensions). Palestinian refugees are still prevented from registering property in accordance with a discriminatory 2001 law.[15]

While Lebanon may offer the starkest example of abuse, nowhere in the Arab world have the Palestinians been treated like “brothers.” In accordance with Arab League resolutions, all Arab states reject naturalization and/or resettlement as solutions to the refugee problem and refuse as a matter of principle to contribute to UNRWA’s budget or to assume responsibility for any of its functions; and all restrict the freedom of movement of their Palestinian residents as well as their property rights and access to such government services as health, education, and social benefits.[16] When in 2004 Saudi Arabia revised its naturalization law allowing foreigners who had resided in its territory for ten years to apply for citizenship, the estimated 500,000 Palestinians living and working in the kingdom were conspicuously excluded. The pretext: the Arab League’s stipulation that Palestinians living in Arab countries be denied citizenship to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their “right to return” to their homeland.[17]

Even in Jordan, where most Palestinians have been naturalized and incorporated into the country’s fabric, they remain largely marginalized and discriminated against. Between 1949 and 1967, when Jordan was in control of the West Bank, some 250,000-500,000 Palestinians moved across to the East Bank or migrated abroad in search of a better life. But even East Bank Palestinians have been subjected to systematic discrimination. They pay much heavier taxes than their Bedouin compatriots; they receive close to zero state benefits; they are almost completely shut out of government jobs, and they have very little, if any, political representation: Not one of Jordan’s twelve governorships is headed by a Palestinian, and the number of Palestinian parliamentarians is disproportionately low.[18]

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that more than two million Palestinians, most of whom have full Jordanian citizenship, are registered as UNRWA refugees with some 370,000 living in ten recognized camps throughout the country.[19] This has in turn resulted in the perception of the kingdom’s entire Palestinian population as refugees who would eventually depart to implement their “right of return.”[20]

This outlook can be traced to the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, which quickly challenged Jordan as the focus of Palestinian national identity. The situation came to a head in the autumn of 1970 with the organization’s attempt to overthrow the Hashemite dynasty. This forced King Hussein to drive the PLO out of the country, gaining traction in July 1988 when hundreds of thousands of West Bankers lost their Jordanian citizenship as a result of the king’s severance of “administrative and legal ties” with the territory. After the signing of the DOP and the July 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, the process shifted to the East Bank where thousands of Palestinians were stripped of their Jordanian citizenship.[21] “For East Bankers, the right of return is often held up as the panacea which will recreate Jordan’s Bedouin or Hashemite identity,” read a 2008 confidential memo by the U.S. ambassador to Amman:

At their most benign, our East Banker contacts tend to count on the right of return as a solution to Jordan’s social, political, and economic woes. But underlying many conversations with East Bankers is the theory that once the Palestinians leave, “real” Jordanians can have their country back … In fact, many of our East Banker contacts do seem more excited about the return [read: departure] of Palestinian refugees than the Palestinians themselves.[22]

Brotherly Massacres

Not only have the host Arab states marginalized and abused their Palestinian guests, but they have not shrunk from massacring them on a grand scale whenever this suited their needs. When in 1970 his throne was endangered by the Palestinian guerilla organizations, the affable and thoroughly Westernized King Hussein slaughtered thousands of Palestinians during a single month, now known as “Black September.” Fearing certain death, scores of Palestinian fighters fled their Jordanian “brothers” to surrender themselves to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Civilian casualties were exorbitant with estimates ranging from three thousand to fifteen thousand dead—higher than the Palestinian death toll in the 1948 war.[23]

In the summer of 1976, Lebanese Christian militias, backed by the Syrian army, massacred some 3,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in the Beirut refugee camp of Tel Zaatar. Six years later, these very militias slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, this time under the IDF’s watchful eye. None of the Arab states came to the Palestinians’ rescue.

When in 1983 the PLO tried to reestablish its military presence in Lebanon, having been driven out the previous year by Israel, it was unceremoniously expelled by the Syrian government, which went on to instigate an internecine war among the Palestinian factions in Lebanon that raged for years and cost an untold number of lives. So much so that Salah Khalaf (aka Abu Iyad), the number two man in the PLO, accused Damascus of committing worse crimes against the Palestinian people than “those of the Israeli enemy.”[24]

In the summer of 2007, the Lebanese army killed hundreds of Palestinians, including many civilians, in the north Lebanese refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, inflicting widespread environmental damage and driving some 30,000 persons to seek refuge in a nearby camp.[25]

Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Syrian civil war, and tens of thousands have fled the country with refugee camps subjected to military attacks and prolonged sieges that reduced their inhabitants to destitution and starvation. The large Yarmuk camp south of Damascus, once home to some 250,000 Palestinians, including 150,000 officially registered refugees, is now “nothing but ruins, and houses only around 18,000 residents who couldn’t escape to Lebanon, Jordan, or elsewhere.”[26]

Brotherly Nakba

Much has been made of the Palestinian exodus of 1948, but during their decades of dispersal, the Palestinians have been subjected to similarly traumatic ordeals at the hands of their Arab brothers. As early as the 1950s, the Arab gulf states expelled striking Palestinian workers while the Black September events led to the expulsion of some 20,000 Palestinians from Jordan and the demolition of their camps.[27] And this tragedy pales in comparison with the eviction of most of Kuwait’s 400,000 Palestinians after the 1991 Kuwait war. “What Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories,” Arafat lamented, as if it were not the PLO’s endorsement of Iraq’s brutal occupation (August 1990-February 1991) that triggered this deadly retribution.[28]

It mattered not that this community had nothing to do with the PLO’s reckless move. Within months of the country’s liberation, only 50,000-80,000 Palestinians remained in the emirate, and by the end of the year, the number had dwindled to some 30,000. Most of these were holders of Egyptian travel documents, originally from Gaza; they were unable to obtain visas to anywhere in the world, including Egypt, the governing power in their homeland at the time when they left for the gulf. By contrast, as noted in The Palestine Yearbook of International Law, “Israel generally placed no obstacles on the post-war return to the territories of Palestinian families from the West Bank,” repatriating some 30,000 West Bankers and 7,000 Gazans with valid Israeli identity cards who had been living and working in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.[29]

No sooner had the dust settled on the Kuwait exodus than the Palestinians experienced yet another expulsion, this time from Libya. In a speech on September 1, 1995, as Israel was about to surrender control of the Palestinian populated areas in the West Bank to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (control of the Gaza population had been surrendered the previous year), Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi announced his intention to expel all Palestinians living and working in the country, urging the Arab states to follow his lead so as to expose the hollowness of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. He argued,

Since the Palestinian leaders claim they have now got a homeland and a passport, let the 30,000 Palestinians in Libya go back to their homeland, and let’s see if the Israelis would permit them to return. That’s how the world will find out that the peace it’s been advocating is no more than treachery and a conspiracy.[30]

While no Arab state took up Qaddafi’s advice and some implored him to rescind his decision, none opened their doors to the deportees. Lebanon denied entry to several thousand arrivals without Lebanese travel documents and banned maritime transport from Libya to preempt the possible flow of deportees while Egypt allowed Palestinians with Israeli permits for entry to Gaza or the West Bank to cross its territory—under escort—to the Palestinian-ruled areas, leaving thousands of hapless refugees stranded in the Egyptian desert for months. Holders of residence permits elsewhere were gradually able to move out; the rest were eventually allowed to remain in Libya when Qaddafi rescinded his decision in early 1997.[31]

Last but not least, the toppling of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 unleashed a tidal wave of violence and terror against Iraq’s 34,000-strong Palestinian community, driving some 21,000 people to flee the country in fear for their lives. Yet far from protecting their long time “guests,” the internationally-propped Iraqi government was implicated in the arbitrary detention, torture, killing, and disappearance of Palestinians while none of the neighboring Arab states (with rare, temporary exceptions) opened their doors to fleeing Iraqi Palestinians. “It’s hard to understand why Syria has provided refuge to nearly a million Iraqi refugees but is shutting the door on hundreds of Palestinians also fleeing Iraq,” commented a leading human rights watchdog. “The Syrian government’s mistreatment of these Palestinian refugees contrasts sharply with its declarations of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”[32] A few years later the same watchdog was voicing the same grievance vis-à-vis the Lebanese government for preventing Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war from entering its territory.[33]

No Love Lost

In fairness to the Arab states, their animosity and distrust were more than reciprocated by the Palestinians. As early as the 1948 war, the pan-Arab volunteer force that entered Palestine to fight the Jews found itself at loggerheads with the community it was supposed to defend. Denunciations and violent clashes were common with the local population often refusing to provide the Arab Liberation Army, as this force was ambitiously named, with the basic necessities for daily upkeep and military operations; for their part, Arab army personnel abused their Palestinian hosts of whom they were openly contemptuous.

This mutual animosity was greatly exacerbated in subsequent decades by the recklessness of the Palestinian leadership, headed from the mid-1960s to November 2004 by Arafat, which turned on Arab host societies whenever given the opportunity. As noted above, it was the PLO’s subversive activities against the Jordanian regime that set in train the chain of events culminating in the Black September massacres. Likewise, the PLO’s abuse of its growing power base in Lebanon, where it established itself after its expulsion from Jordan, and its meddling in that country’s internal politics, helped trigger the Lebanese civil war that raged for nearly two decades and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

“I remember literally screaming at him in my own house,” the Palestinian academic Walid Khalidi, then based in Beirut, said, recalling his desperate attempt to dissuade Arafat from taking sides in the nascent civil war. “I was really very angry because it just didn’t make sense for him to say that. I told him that we as Palestinians had no business calling for the ostracism of the Phalangists, and that it would drive them all the way into the hands of the Israelis.”[34] This point was not lost on ordinary Palestinians, who often blamed Arafat for their Lebanese misfortunes. When in summer 1976 the PLO chairman visited survivors of the Tel Zaatar massacre, he was treated to a barrage of rotten vegetables and chants of “traitor” by the embittered refugees who accused him of provoking the camp’s blood-drenched fall.[35]

This political meddling was accompanied by wanton violence wreaked by the PLO on its host society. In a repeat of their Jordanian lawlessness, Palestinian guerrillas turned the vibrant and thriving Lebanese state, whose capital of Beirut was acclaimed as the “Paris of the Middle East,” into a hotbed of violence and anarchy. Several districts of Beirut and the refugee camps came under exclusive Palestinian control, so much so that they became generally known as the Fakhani Republic, after the Beirut district in which Arafat had set up his headquarters. Substantial parts of southern Lebanon or “Fatahland” also were under Palestinian control. In flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty, the PLO set up roadblocks, took over buildings and drove out local residents, operated extortion rackets, protected criminals fleeing from Lebanese justice, and committed countless atrocities against Lebanese civilians, notably the January 1976 massacre of hundreds of residents of the Christian town of Damour, south of Beirut, and the expulsion of the remaining population.[36]

Conclusion

Self-serving interventionism under the pretence of pan-Arab solidarity has transformed the bilateral Palestinian-Israeli dispute into a multilateral Arab-Israeli conflict, thereby stirring unrealistic hopes and expectations in Palestinian political circles and, at key junctures, inciting widespread and horrifically destructive violence. The consequence has been to increase the intensity of the conflict and make its resolution far more complex and tortuous, leaving the Palestinians stateless for over six-and-a-half decades.

The sooner the Palestinians reject this spurious link and recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner are they likely to make their own peace with the existence of the Jewish state—as stipulated by the 1947 partition resolution—and win their own state at long last despite their Arab “brothers.”

EMiddle East Quarterly

[1] Walid Khalidi, “Thinking the Unthinkable: A Sovereign Palestinian State,” Foreign Affairs, July 1978, pp. 695-6; Hisham Sharabi, Nationalism and Revolution in the Arab World (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1966), p. 3.
[2] Walter Laqueur, ed., The Israel-Arab Reader (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 37.
[3] Gen. Nuri Said, Arab Independence and Unity: A Note on the Arab Cause with Particular Reference to Palestine, and Suggestions for a Permanent Settlement to which Are Attached Texts of All the Relevant Documents (Baghdad: Government Press, 1943), p. 11.
[4] “Interview [by] Clare Hollingowith with Azzam Pasha, Mar. 23, 1948, S25/9020”; see, also, “Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 57,” issued by HQ British Troops in Palestine for the period 6 Dec.-18 Dec. 1947, WO 275/64, p. 2; Cunningham to Creech Jones, Feb. 24, 1948, “Cunningham Papers,” VI/1/80; Kirkbride to Bevin, Dec. 23, 1947, FO 371/61583; Musa Alami, “The Lesson of Palestine,” Middle East Journal, Oct. 1949, p. 385.
[5] John Laffin, The PLO Connections (London: Corgi Books, 1983), p. 127.
[6] Damascus Radio, Mar. 8, 1974.
[7] Palestinians leaders went out of their way to reassure their constituents that this was merely a tactical ploy aimed at enhancing the PLO’s international standing and, as a result, its ability to achieve the ultimate goal of Israel’s destruction: “We vowed to liberate Palestine before 1967,” stated Abu Iyad, Yasser Arafat’s second in command. “We will restore Palestine step by step and not in one fell swoop, just as the Jews had done.” He reiterated this pledge a few days later: “The establishment of a Palestinian state on any part of Palestine is but a step toward the [liberation of the] whole of Palestine.” Al-Anba (Kuwait), Dec. 5, 13, 1988.
[8] Davar (Tel Aviv), Nov. 12, 1987; Hadashot (Tel Aviv), Nov. 13, 15, 1987.
[9] International Herald Tribune (Paris), Nov. 27, Dec. 5, 1984.
[10] For further discussion of this issue, see Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography (New York: Grove, 2003; rev. and updated ed.); Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
[11] The New York Times, Mar. 16, 1991; “A New Beginning,” US News & World Report, Sept. 13, 1993.
[12]194 (III). Palestine – Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator,” U.N. General Assembly, New York, Dec. 11, 1948, art. 11; “393 (v) – Assistance to Palestine Refugees,” idem, Dec. 2, 1950, art. 4; “Special report of the Director and Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East,” idem, Nov. 29, 1951, A/1905/Add. 1, p. 4. For Arab rejection of res. 194, see “Arab Broadcasts: Daily Summary,” Israeli Foreign Office, Middle Eastern Dept., no. 36, Sept. 12-13, 1948; Hagana Archive (Tel Aviv), HA 105/88, p. 153; “Arabs Firm on Refugees,” The New York Times, Sept. 9, 1948; British Middle East Office (Cairo) to Foreign Office, Sept. 11, 1948, FO 371/68341; Davar, Aug. 8, 1948; al-Masri (Cairo), Oct. 11, 1948, quoted in “Refugee Repatriation—A Danger to Israel’s security,” Israeli Foreign Ministry, Research Dept., Sept. 4, 1951, FM 2564/1.
[13]Where We Work – Lebanon,” UNRWA, New York, accessed Dec. 8, 2013; “Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” Amnesty International, London, Oct. 2007, pp. 2, 10; Julie Peteet, “From Refugees to Minority: Palestinians in Post-War Lebanon,” Middle East Report, July-Sept. 1996, p. 29.
[14] Lena El-Malak, “Betrayed and Forgotten: Palestinians Refugees in Lebanon,” Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, vol. 9, 2002-03, pp. 136-7; Souheil al-Natour, “The Legal Status of Palestinians in Lebanon,” Journal of Refugee Studies, no. 3, 1997, pp. 360-77.
[15]Palestinians in Lebanon working under precarious conditions,” International Labor Organization, Geneva, Nov. 20, 2012; World Report 2010: Lebanon, World Report 2011: Lebanon, World Report 2013: Lebanon, Human Rights Watch, New York; “Exiled and Suffering,” Amnesty International, London, pp. 18-22.
[16] See, for example, “Recommendations by the Committee of Arab Experts in Reply to the Proposals by the U.N. Secretary-General Regarding the Continuation of U.N. Assistance to the Palestine Refugee” (Sofar, Leb.), Aug. 17, 1959, in Muhammad Khalil, The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary Record (Beirut: Khayat, 1962), vol. 2, pp. 654-5; Abbas Shiblak, “Residency Status and Civil Rights of Palestinian Refugees in Arab Countries,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1996, pp. 36-45.
[17] P.K. Abdul Gharfour, “A Million Expatriates to Benefit from New Citizenship Law,Arab News (Riyadh), Oct. 21, 2004.
[18] Moshe Efrat, “Haplitim Hapalestinaim 1949-74: Mehkar Kalkali Vehevrati” (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Horowitz Center for the Study of Developing Countries, Sept. 1976), pp. 22-3; Don Peretz, Palestinian Refugees and the Middle East Peace Process (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1993), pp. 49-50; Mudar Zahran, “Jordan Is Palestinian,Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 3-12.
[19]Where We Work: Jordan,” UNRWA. Figures as of Jan. 1, 2012.
[20]World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Jordan: Palestinians, 2008,” Minority Rights Group International, London, accessed Feb. 3, 2014.
[21] Laurie A. Brand, “Palestinians and Jordanians: A Crisis of Identity,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1995, pp. 46-61; “Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of Their Nationality,” Human Rights Watch, New York, Feb. 1, 2010; “Jordan: Stop Withdrawing Nationality from Palestinian-Origin Citizens,” Human Rights Watch, Feb. 1, 2010.
[22] U.S. Ambassador to Jordan David Hale, “Confidential Memo on the Debate in Jordan Concerning the Palestinian Right of Return, Amman, Feb. 5, 2008,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 2012, pp. 220, 222.
[23] Said Aburish, Arafat: From Defender to Dictator (London: Bloomsbury, 1998), p. 114.
[24] Al-Majallah (London), Nov. 26, 1983.
[25] “Exiled and suffering,” Amnesty International, London, pp. 5-6.
[26] Ramzy Baroud, “Starving to Death in Syria,al-Ahram (Cairo), Jan. 9-15, 2014; The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19, 2013; Haaretz (Tel Aviv), Jan. 2, 2014; The Guardian (London), Dec. 12, 2012.
[27] “From Badil Refugee Survey 2008-2009: Secondary Forced Displacement in Host Countries – An Overview,” BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Bethlehem, Summer-Autumn 2010.
[28] Al-Musawwar (Cairo), Nov. 15, 1991.
[29] “Nowhere to Go: The Tragedy of the Remaining Palestinian Families in Kuwait,” Human Rights Watch, Middle East Watch, Oct. 23, 1991, reprinted in The Palestine Yearbook of International Law, vol. 6, 1990-91, pp. 99-102; Steven J. Rosen, “Kuwait Expels Thousands of Palestinians,Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2012, pp. 75-83; Ann M. Lesch, “Palestinians in Kuwait,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1991, pp. 47-53.
[30] The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 14, 1995; The New York Times, Oct. 5, 1995.
[31] Abbas Shiblak, “A Time of Hardship and Agony: Palestinian Refugees in Libya,Palestine-Israel Journal, no. 4, 1995; “The Palestinian Crisis in Libya, 1994-1996 (Interview with Professor Bassem Sirhan),” Forced Secondary Displacement: Palestinian Refugees in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Jordan, and Libya, BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Bethlehem, Winter 2010.
[32]Syria: Give Refuge to Palestinians Fleeing Threats in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch, Feb. 2, 2007.
[33]Nowhere to Flee: The Perilous Situation of Palestinians in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch, New York, Sept. 2006; “Syria: Give Refuge to Palestinians Fleeing Threats in Iraq,” idem, Feb. 2, 2007; “Lebanon: Palestinians Fleeing Syria Denied Entry,” idem, Aug. 8, 2013.
[34] Andrew Gowers and Tony Walker, Arafat: The Biography (London: Virgin, 1994), pp. 186, 200.
[35] Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 86, 102.
[36] Aburish, Arafat, p. 151.

Middle East

The Causes and Effects of the United States “Long Goodbye” to the Middle East

Lawrence Habahbeh

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A glance at a world map reveals one great reason why the Middle East (ME) claims the attention of great power centres of the world.  A roughly rectangular area stretching from the Adriatic Sea, East to the black sea ,and south to the Indus River.   The ME is a joining point of three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa and one of the most vital crossroads on the planet.   It is the cradle of world civilization and the birth place of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.    Further, it is rich in oil, gas, and other commodities.   According to British Petroleum 2019 (BP) Statistical review of World Energy, the Middle East holds 836 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which constitutes 48% of world total.   In comparison to other regions of the world, it holds 3X the proven oil reserves of the U.S, Canada and Mexico combined, and 58X the proven oil reserves of Europe.   Likewise, the Middle East has the world’s largest proven reserves of Natural Gas (NG); standing at 38.3% of the world’s total, while the Common wealth of Independent States (CIS) holds the second largest reserves at 31.9%.

Historically, the strategic foundation for the U.S. involvement in the Middle East was shaped by several policy objectives reflecting both regional dynamics and U.S. interests.  These strategic interests centred primarily around protecting the reliable free flow of commodities and commercial activity through well known checkpoints in the Arabian Peninsula, especially the strait of Hormoz and Suez canal; supporting the security, stability, and prosperity of U.S. partners in the region, including the State of Israel; preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering Jihadist movements, and terrorism.  Since 2011, geopolitical tensions, trade disputes, and changes in the international security landscape have tested the US-ME relationship, and have caused the strategic pillars of the U.S. Involvement in the region to undergo a state of transition, hastened by three major factors: 

First; In a speech by former Secretary of Defence James Mattes at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, January 19, 2018, he asserted” Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”.  Further, according to President Obama’s June 2015 National Military Strategy and also President Trump’s January 2018 National Defence Strategy  (NDS), they both acknowledged that the shift in U.S. strategic direction is driven by a return to great power competition with China and Russia, underlined by a rising trend in strategic cooperation between two countries on many issues across many regions of the world, In fact; this strategic cooperation can be seen taking shape in the economic and military spheres.  For example, according to various press reports, in September of 2019, Chinese and Russian troops took part in joint military manoeuvres; dubbed, “Tsentr-2019” to strengthen their military readiness.  Further, direct trade between the two countries is increasing.  According to data from statista, trade between Russia and China reached a record level, exceeding $100 billion compared to previous years.  Likewise, China’s natural gas imports from Russia more than doubled in 2019 subsequent to operating the “Power of Siberia”  gas pipeline with a total initial capacity of 5 Billion Cubic meters (BCM) of gas, and a targeted capacity of 38 BCM by 2025, which constitutes 13% of China’s 2018 demand.  Equally important; China’s expanding major economic development project, the Belt and Road (BRI) initiative.  The BRI initiative is an ambitious plan to build an open and balanced regional economic architecture connecting dozens of countries in Asia, Eurasia, and Europe by constructing six international economic corridors and an extensive rail network linking China to Europe through a “new Eurasian Land Bridge”.  In the same way, the project aims to construct economic corridors linking China, Mongolia, and Russia; also, China to west, central, and South Asia. 

The evolving dynamics of economic corridors connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe, and Africa is consistent with the ideas of the Eurasianist Aleksandr  Dugin’s, and the ideas advanced in his book published in 1997 titled “Foundations of Geopolitics”, in which he calls for the realization of a Unified Economic Landscape called Greater Eurasia.  Greater Eurasia refers to countries that are on the territory of the Eurasian continent across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.  It consists of two regions of energy consumption (Europe & Asia Pacific) and three regions of energy production (Russia and Arctic & Caspian & Middle East) in between.  It includes 91 countries, which represents two-thirds of the world population, exports of goods and services and GDP.

These evolving and developing geographic and economic integration projects based on strategic cooperation between Russia and China create a geographic mass of countries across, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East that are increasingly interdependent, and their interests are more closely intertwined than ever before.  Consequently; shifting geopolitics in Greater Eurasia driving the strategic convergence in economic power between Russia and China is posing challenges to U.S. leadership in the region and the world.   These interactions between Russia and China in the military and economic spheres demonstrate a growing trend in strategic cooperation between the two countries and may be driven by an ideological denominator, where both countries view the U.S. as the “Glavny Protivnik”.

Second; according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States became the world’s largest producer of petroleum hydrocarbons and the largest producer of oil with a total production capacity of 12.7 million barrels of oil per day as of March 2020, surpassing the daily production capacity of both Russia and Saudi-Arabia.  In the same manner; according to BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy report, the U.S. is still the world leader when it comes to natural gas production, averaging approximately 920 billion cubic meters of gas in 2019, followed by Russia, Iran, and Qatar.  As a result, the United States is undergoing an oil and natural gas production renaissance that will likely continue to change the global energy landscape, and lead to wide-ranging regional and global geopolitical implications.   The Age of Abundance for the U.S is driving the change in relations with regional allies, which, in part, will be redefined based on relations that are built around competition in the global gas market, and the supply of cleaner energy sources, especially, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Third; according to the CIA’s Global Threats Report  2019.  The ME region is highly vulnerable to changes in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, and floods, and that combined with Poor Governance – leads to increased food and water insecurity.    As a result, it is very likely that there will be an increased risk of social unrest, migration and tension between regional State, and non-State actors.

It stands to reason that the U.S. views the strategic benefits derived from maintaining the  historical strategic pillars, and policy objectives in the ME vis-à-vis the strategic risks associated with such policy as costly and no longer viable because of the greater strategic threats posed by both Russia’s aggression towards its neighbours in Europe in consequence of Russia’s own economic, political, and social agenda, which opposes the international liberal order promoted, and protected by the U.S. since the second world war., and China’s expanding financial and economic influence, and strategic cooperation with Russia in multiple domains to amass political and strategic advantage through improved economic and energy connectivity projects in Europe, Eurasia, Middle East, and Asia pacific.  Therefore; U.S vital strategic interests lay elsewhere and the U.S. views Russia and China as a greater strategic risk than Iran and Al-Qaeda, and that requires the U.S. to “do less” in the Middle East.  In consequence, from U.S perspective the Middle East region is no longer a priority for the United States.  

The strategic implications of the ongoing U.S. long goodbye to the M.E. region over the past decade have shifted the regional geopolitical environment and caused the formation of a power vacuum where state and non-state actors competing in a multi-level and proxy executed competition to gain diplomatic, economic, and strategic advantage.  As a result, three regional spheres of influence emerged vying for control and power in the region, including the conservative wing, comprising Saudi Arabia (GCC, less Qatar), Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. The anti-American wing includes Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.  Lastly the Islamist wing includes Turkey, and Qatar.  Add to this complex geopolitical landscape, Russian and Chinese inroads through military, economic, and weapons sales to regional actors to increase their regional influence.  In fact; in recent years, Moscow has strengthened its military foothold in Syria and secured access to military bases on the Mediterranean Sea, in order to expand its regional political, military, and economic influence.  Moscow’s regional engagement has solidified since 2015 Russian intervention in Syria.  Moreover, Russia’s expanding military exercises and weapons sales with Egypt selling 2$ billion worth of aircrafts to Cairo.  Further, Moscow support and expanded ties with Khalifa Haftar in Libya,  talks to sell S-400 Missile Defence System to Qatar, cooperation with Saudi Arabia to stabilize global oil markets, and strengthening relations with Israel and Iran are clear indications of Moscow’s increasing influence in the Middle East region.

In the same way, China’s strategic cooperation with Middle Eastern countries is on the rise.  For instance, the region is China’s No.1 source of imported petroleum products.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 50% of Chinese Oil imports come from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, and Iran, with Saudi Arabia providing 16% of Oil imports.  Further; Qatar, is the one of largest LNG suppliers to China.  Moreover, In July 2018, China and the UAE announced an upgrade to their 2012 strategic partnership to a “comprehensive Strategic Partnership”- China’s highest level of diplomatic relations, outlining cooperation in wide range of fields such as politics, economics, trade, technology, energy, renewable energy, and security.   Likewise, In Egypt, in September 2018 President Sisi visited Beijing and signed 18$ billion worth of deals with China including projects covering rail, real estate, and energy.  Again, Chinese construction firms are heavily engaged in constructing Egypt’s new administrative capital outside of Cairo and developing the Red Sea port and industrial zone.  Likewise, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt are important to China’s expanding BRI initiative.   The majority of Chinese trade with Europe passes through the Suez Canal, and China is expanding the cooperative zone around the canal by expanding the port and shipping facilities.   Finally, Jordan joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015, and Israel high speed rail project with China that will connect Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean to Eilat on the Red Sea.  Clearly, the multitude of Chinese driven infrastructure projects in the region are an indication that countries in the Middle East are welcoming China’s economic investments, and if history is a gauge of future developments, then it is reasonable to conclude that China is likely to increase its political engagement and expand its military presence in the region to protect and secure its economic interest.

In 2017, during a visit by president Trump to Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh declaration was announced.  The declaration is a U.S. proposal for a multilateral regional arrangement between Gulf Cooperation Council nations (GCC), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Jordan and Egypt, dubbed the Middle East Strategic alliance (MESA).  The proposal centres on the idea of a regional system with shared security, economic, and political architecture.   According to data from the World Bank Development Indicators (WBDI) (2018), the MESA boasts a combined GDP of $2.3 trillion and represents a market of 175 million consumers.  The proposal joins an increasing number of regional alliances that exist across the globe, such as the three seas initiative (3SI), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), among others.  Since its announcement, an ongoing dispute among the competing, regional spheres of influence, due to differences in their respective interests, capabilities, and threat perceptions has caused little progress in the future trajectory of this multilateral arrangement.

Finally, the reality is that the U.S. should not fully extricate itself from the region due to the U.S. great power competition with China and Russia, which the Trump Administration has placed at the centre of its national security strategy.   Instead, the U.S. should invest in its regional network of allies and partners to work together to maximize their strengths and address common challenges that are vital to U.S. national security and geopolitical stability.  The U.S. should push for and hasten the strategic convergence of the MESA member States by promoting deeper coordination and interaction among participants through multilateral cooperation in the economic, political, security, and energy spheres by calling to build the tools and the governing institutions to govern MESA operations and decision making such as a Middle East Strategic Alliance Council with prime ministers as members, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Economic Commission to manage the organizations day to day decision making activity, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Court system, tasked with managing disputes among member States, and a Middle East Strategic Alliance development bank and stabilization fund to support and drive integration efforts through regional lending and investment programs to boost, along an East-West axis, cross-border economic development, energy, water, transportation, and digital infrastructure connectivity projects.

As noted above, the U.S. should reposition itself at the helm of key Middle East dynamics, while simultaneously working with regional partners to balance Russian and Chinese inroads and expanding patterns of influence in the region.  Else, a lack of a clear, unified strategy for the Middle East, will perpetuate the current Hobbesian state of a bellum omnium contra omnes, which renders the whole Middle East system in a quantum state of neither at peace, nor at war, but, entangled in a super position of both states simultaneously; waiting for an observer; to implement the wrong policy option, resulting in the collapse of the state function; into a wilderness of tempestuous combustion; likely, paving the way, to the last age of Pax Americana.

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Middle East

Economic Crisis Does Little to Dampen Mohammed bin Salman’s Pricey Ambitions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan announced austerity measures in May, including an $8 billion USD cut back on spending on Vision 2030 — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to restructure the Saudi economy — economists and pundits assumed that was the death knell for trophy projects like NEOM, a $500 billion USD plan for a futuristic mega smart city on the Red Sea.

Economists and pundits may want to think again.

Plagued by questions about the project’s strategic value at a time when the kingdom is struggling with the economic fallout of a pandemic, the impact of an oil price rout, and controversy over the killing of a tribal leader who resisted displacement, NEOM last week sought to counter the criticism by hiring a US public relations and lobbying firm.

NEOM’s $1.7 million USD contract with Ruder Finn – a PR company with offices in the US, Britain, and Asia – was concluded as the kingdom sought to salvage another trophy project, the acquisition of English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United, beset by accusations that the Saudi government had enabled TV broadcasting piracy in its rift with fellow Gulf state Qatar.

The controversy proved to be a lesson in the reputational risk involved in high-profile acquisitions. Piracy was not the only thing complicating the acquisition of Newcastle. So was Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as a result of mass arrests of activists and critics and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

With the publication of a damning report by the World Trade Organization (WTO), Saudi Arabia moved quickly to counter the criticism by removing boxes of BeoutQ, an operation that pirated sports broadcasts legally contracted by BeIN, the sports franchise of state-owned Qatari television network Al Jazeera. BeoutQ broadcasts were carried by Saudi-based Arabsat.

BeoutQ was taking advantage of the banning of BeIN in the kingdom as part of the three-year-old Saudi-UAE diplomatic and economic boycott of fellow Gulf state Qatar. Saudi sports cafes began broadcasting BeIN for the first time immediately after release of the WTO report.

Like the Saudi response to the WTO, NEOM’s contract with Ruder Finn seems to be an effort to repair reputational damage.

Ruder Finn’s mandate appears designed to counter the fallout of the killing in April of Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti, whom the government labelled a terrorist, and to project NEOM as a socially responsible corporation bent on engagement with its local community.

Taking issue with the suggestion that NEOM was in damage limitation mode, Ali Shihabi, a political analyst, former banker, and member of NEOM’s advisory board who often reflects Saudi thinking, argued in a series of tweets that project NEOM was about much more than refuting negative media reporting.

“There is much more substance to NEOM than ‘flashy projects.’ NEOM will be heavily involved in serious projects like advanced desalination, innovative desert agriculture and more use of solar and wind energy, etc. that are very relevant to the country and the region’s urgent needs. These have been very well planned/researched and some are already being executed,” Mr. Shihabi wrote, admitting that the company behind the project had yet to detail its plans.

Mr. Shihabi’s claims were seconded by Ruder Finn in its filing to the US Department of Justice as a foreign agent.

“NEOM is a bold and audacious dream,” Ruder Finn said. “It’s an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it comes at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions.”

Ruder Finn’s contract was announced after NEOM said that it was taking multiple steps to demonstrate that it was being “socially responsible and [would] deliver . . . impactful, sustainable and committed initiatives.”

In lieu of Mr. Shihabi’s anticipated detailing of NEOM’s grandiose plans, Ruder Finn’s filing to the Department of Justice as a foreign agent, as well as NEOM’s announcements, seemed less geared toward projecting the futuristic city’s economic and environmental contribution and more towards repairing damage caused by the dispute with local tribesmen and the killing of Mr. Al-Huwaiti.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti, a leader of protests against alleged forced evictions and vague promises of compensation, was reportedly killed in a gun fight with security forces.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti predicted that he would be either detained or killed in a video posted on YouTube hours before his death. In the video, he claimed that whatever happened to him would be designed to break the resistance of his Huwaitat tribe to their displacement.

He denounced Prince Mohammed’s leadership as “rule by children” and described the kingdom’s religious establishment that has endorsed the Crown Prince’s policies as “silent cowards.”

An estimated 20,000 people are expected to be moved out of an area that Prince Mohammed once said had “no one there.”

NEOM declared earlier this week that it would be offering English-language lessons at its recently established academy and that some 1,000 students would be trained in tourism, hospitality, and cybersecurity.

At the same time, the government said that eligible Saudis would be compensated for loss of land with plots along the coast as part of a program to improve standards of living.

Online news service Foreign Lobby Report reported that Ruder Finn would produce informational materials, including a monthly video to promote NEOM’s engagement with the local community as well as visual materials highlighting the company’s fulfillment of its social responsibility.

Ruder Finn’s efforts were likely to do little to convince the kingdom’s critics.

Writing in Foreign Policy in April, Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s former Middle East and North Africa Director, and Abdullah AlAoudh, a Saudi legal scholar, dismissed NEOM’s grand ambitions. Mr. AlAoudh’s father Shaykh Salman Al-Odah, a prominent reformist religious scholar, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2017 for advocating an end to the rift with Qatar.

“Whether the NEOM project is even remotely viable, given the global financial collapse because of the coronavirus and rising Saudi debt amid historically low oil prices, is highly doubtful,” Ms. Whitson and Mr. AlAoudh said. “The only result we’ve seen from this vision for a futuristic city is the promised destruction of a historic community and the death of a Saudi protester, using archaic means with no room for modern notions of rights and justice.”

Author’s note: An initial version of this story was first published in Inside Arabia

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Middle East

Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank: Old and new problems

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to establish as of July 1 Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over some areas of Judaea and Samaria, also known as parts of the West Bank and the River Jordan, which fell under the  control of Israel as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. At present, about half a million Israelis reside in these areas. However, most countries, citing international law, consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal on the grounds that they pose an obstacle to clinching peace with Palestinians.

The announcement of the Israeli leader had nothing sensational about it. Israel’s policy, aimed at de facto annexing Palestinian territories and at legal acts regarding Israeli communities in the West Bank, undergoes no substantial changes. But this time, the issue under consideration is the legitimization, the establishment of the legal status of these territories as Israeli.

Ideas of this kind are constantly circulating within the ranks of the country’s right-wing politicians. Moreover, being a staunch Zionism maximalist and after 15 years in power, in the course of which he frequently enjoyed a parliamentary majority,  Benjamin Netanyahu could have easily secured this status. However, political caution and pragmatism held him back. That’s why the question is why these plans have acquired a clear-cut shape now, with even a date set for the start of the process.

There seem to be many reasons for this. Naturally, some are personal. At the peak of success, in connection with the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and Washington’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and also, following a triumphant recovery from the long-running government crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu is set on strengthening his positions, on winning the support of a maximum number of Israelis, particularly in the light of recent events, after his case went to court.[1]

But the main reason is overall support of Israel from the Trump administration. Never before were relations between Washington and Jerusalem that close.

Undoubtedly, what triggered the process was the ambitious and difficult-to-implement draft agreement proposed by US President Donald Trump to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which, in the opinion of the White House, guarantees a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and puts an end to the more than 70 – year conflict in the Middle East.  The 180-page document stipulates that Israel maintains its sovereignty over the territory of the Jordan Valley, Judea and Samaria. In addition, Washington insists that Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands should be recognized as territory of Israel. That is, all Jewish settlements will remain in their places, including 15 remote settlements which are in no way connected to territories that will be handed over to Israel.

It’s no secret that the draft was developed by Trump’s officials within the framework of consultations with Israelis. The document, presented by Trump on January 28, 2020, was dubbed “the deal of the century”. After the presentation, Israeli and American teams got down to work to make maps of West Bank areas which Israel could annex first under the plan. Although, the American and Israeli positions do not always coincide.

Yet, the coming on the scene of the “deal of the century” and the Netanyahu plan are no accident. Times are changing.

Firstly, after a months-long political crisis in Israel a coalition government has been formed which will be run by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 months, and the remaining 18 months after November 17, 2021 (if nothing extraordinary happens) until the next elections – by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. Thus, the political instability at home has been neutralized.

The coalition agreement which has been achieved in Israel hinges on a document signed by Netanyahu and Gantz on behalf of their parties Likud and Kahol Lavan. This document regulates division of power, the functioning of the new government, and a detailed procedure of decision-making with the right of veto. One important reservation is that expansion of Israeli sovereignty (or annexation) can be proclaimed by Netanyahu and his party without the consent of Gantz, and accordingly, his party. This is the only political area which has such a reservation which abolishes veto.

What speaks of Netanyahu’s “resoluteness” is a changed role of Israel in regional and global affairs. Having integrated into the global economy, Israel, without any exaggeration, has achieved a lot, both technologically, and in terms of security potential. This was backed by progress in the demographic sphere (which is important for Israel), and in the economy. In 2000 the population of Israel was a little over 6 million, in April 2020 – 9,2 million. (At the time of the declaration of independence in 1948 Israel was home to 872 700). In 2000 per capita GDP totaled $ 21038, by 2020 it increased to $ 42823.

The hefty reserves of natural gas which were discovered on Israel’s Mediterranean coast in 2010 and which are already being developed form a foundation of the country’s energy independence and enable it to become a gas exporting country. All this contributes to Netanyahu’s confidence.

Israel’s position in the Middle East is changing as well. The Arab neighbors have become less adverse to it. Gulf monarchies, along with other Arab nations are getting closer and closer to Israel in their confrontation with Iran. Europe, preoccupied with migrant-related problems, is  less critical of Israel and  less protective of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian political institutes, just like Palestinian leaders, are split between the West Bank and Gaza, which makes them weaker politically.

On the whole, the Palestinian issue appears to be tiring for many actors in the  Middle East.

Therefore, a combination of positive factors, both subjective and objective, has set the stage for the  appearance of Trump’s “deal of the century” and led to the present announcement of the Israeli prime minister. 

US and Israeli leaders are in a hurry: November 3, 2020 – the day of the presidential elections in America – may become critical for the far-reaching plans of the parties concerned.

It needs to acknowledge, however, that if put into effect, the Netanyahu plan is fraught with severe consequences for Israel proper, and for the rest of the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, the initiative voiced by Prime Minister Netanyahu will prove explosive for the current political situation in the country, which is complicated enough without it. Protests are already rolling through Israel against the expansion of sovereignty to the West Bank. Even Netanyahu’s supporters are fully aware that the risks in the Netanyahu-proposed strategic game are extremely high. A great deal is put on stake: human lives, security, economy, the country’s international image. That is why voices against the plan are heard ever more frequently, demanding that the date of the start of the sovereignty declaration procedure be postponed.

Moreover, on June 9 the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice passed a ruling that could come crucial for the country and for the Israeli-Palestinian settlement process. The Court abolished a law under which Jewish settlements in the West Bank which were built on Palestinian territories illegally, can be legalized.

The Netanyahu plan boosts the risk of a new intifada, new terrorist attacks from radical Islamists. Naturally, Palestinians are highly adverse to the move. Deputy chief of the JAMAS “political bureau” Saleh Aruri has made it clear that a return of “armed confrontation” to the West Bank has become a possibility, “more probable   than some could imagine”.

A political storm at home will have a negative effect on Israeli economy and will undermine its defense potential, its power to confront JAMAS, Hezbollah and their ally – the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Tehran will get a good stimulus for activating anti-Israeli propaganda, for convincing its Arab neighbors of Israel’s wickedness, for expanding financial and military support of Palestinians in their struggle for a Palestinian state, for initiating a new phase of the hybrid war against the Jewish state.

The fledgling Israel-friendly architecture for the Middle East, which envisages a certain normalization of relations with Arab opponents, may crumble in a flicker of an eye.

Without doubt, Arabs will condemn the Netanyahu plan, though it may happen that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states, having joined the anti-Israeli chorus, will not risk jeopardizing cooperation with it.

Europe, which is a major trade partner of Israel, is against the Netanyahu plan. Israel is closely integrated with European cooperation programs, including in education, scientific research and innovations, which yield considerable mutual benefits. All this may now be put under threat. The position of the European Union on annexation is clear and consistent: the EU «does not recognize any changes of the 1967 borders, unless they are acknowledged by Israelis and Palestinians». The EU urges Israel to refrain from annexation.

China and Russia will adhere to their present positions, based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council and international law. Moscow and Beijing, while defending their views, will strive to prevent a deterioration of bilateral relations with Israel.

The Russian position on the Netanyahu plan was spelled out by Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, who said that implementation of intentions to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank seemed a very dangerous scenario. Annexation of Palestinian territories by Israel will cross out prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and trigger a new upsurge of violence.

The ambassador reiterated a position in favor of a two-state solution on the basis of a commonly recognized international framework. He pointed out the need to secure an early resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the patronage of the United Nations in order to negotiate a final status and achieve a comprehensive peace settlement on the basis of UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Earlier (on May 20) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on the phone  with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, confirmed Russia’s readiness in tandem with other members of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the USA, the EU, the UN) to contribute to the reset of a peace process by means of a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinian-Israeli problem is clearly a knotty issue which has been a point of unsuccessful talks for more than 70 years. It penetrates the political, diplomatic and military space of the Middle East, affecting the situation in different parts of the region. The putting into effect of the Netanyahu plan on expanding the Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria, coupled with Trump’ “deal of the century”, will surely cause an explosive reaction worldwide, in Israel proper, and throughout the Middle East.

It looks like the only positive thing about Netanyahu’s and Trump’s controversial and dangerous plans is that these projects have yet again attracted the attention of the world community to the Palestinian problem, an acute issue of our day. But July 1 is just round the corner! 

[1] Reference: On May 24 the first session of the Jerusalem District Court got under way to consider three cases which were filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the first time in Israel’s history when an incumbent prime minister is officially accused of criminal wrongdoing. 

The first inquiry against the prime minister was held in 1999-2000. Back then, the police sued him on five charges – bribery, an attempt to embezzle state property, fraud, abuse of office and attempts to impede the inquiry. However, all lawsuits were closed before reaching court for lack of evidence.

The year 2016 saw a new inquiry which was conducted within the framework of three separate cases known in the press as «Case 1000», «Case 2000» and «Case 4000». On the basis of these cases the Israeli Prosecutor-General Avichai Mandelblit issued official charges against Netanyahu on November 21st, 2019. On  «Case 1000» and «Case 2000» the prime minister is charged with fraud and abuse of trust (Article 284 of the Criminal Code provides for a three-year imprisonment), on «Case 4000» he is charged with fraud, abuse of trust and bribery (Article 290 of the Criminal Code, up to 10 years in prison). On January 28, 2020 all cases were transferred to the Jerusalem District Court.

Benjamin Netanyahu denies all charges saying that all the cases against him have been fabricated for the purpose of removing right wingers from power.

From our partner International Affairs

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