The new Swedish government officially recognized on October 30, 2014 the State of Palestine (1) . British Parliament voted two weeks earlier on a resolution in favour of backing the recognition of the Palestinian State (2) . And even the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini spoke during her first official visit to Israel and Palestine in November 2014 in favour of the recognition of the Palestinian State (3).
Already on November 29, 2012 United Nations General Assembly, voting by an overwhelming majority, accorded Palestine “Non-Member-State” observer status in the UN. Did these important acts change anything on the ground? Certainly not. The only recognition which would count would be the one expressed by the State of Israel – in its own interest. Officially the government of Israel is in favour of the so-called two-states-resolution. So, what has been going wrong, why the world is waiting since the Oslo and Washington Peace Accord for the decisive step?
As a matter of fact the Oslo and Washington Peace Accord was too vague for the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the right to exist in recognized and secure borders for Israel, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by the Israelis in 1967.
While the PLO “recognized the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security” and “accepted United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338” , Israel “in response, decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process” (5).
In a retrospective view for the PLO the recognition of Israel was obviously connected with the withdrawal from all occupied territories according to UNSC Res.242 und 338. (4) Careful reading of Chairman Arafat’s letter does not allow another interpretation of, while for Israel the recognition of the PLO did not mean the same, neither the total withdrawal from occupied territories, in particular not from in the meantime annexed areas like East Jerusalem or from the settlements, nor in any way a recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state. To some extent this is also the continuity of different interpretations in the past, in particular of UNSC Resolution 242. While Israel reads from the formulation “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” (6), that this does not request the withdrawal from “the” territories and therefore not from all occupied areas, the Arab and in particular the Palestinian side has a complete different view, based on the preamble of 242: “Emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war…” (7).
So the future failure of the peace process was built in from the very beginning.
In the Israeli view not only the negotiations of the most difficult questions in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians were postponed but the solutions were in no way anticipated, for the Palestinians the solution was already fixed by the implementation of Resolutions 242 and 338 and only the implementation was postponed and subject to further negotiations.
This may explain also some (past) patience of the Palestinian side with delays regarding timetables for Israeli withdrawals from territories, because one day they would have withdrawn from the whole West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem and would have given up the settlements. Taking into account how difficult it was for them to accept even 242 and the principle right of Israel to exist and the opposition to this recognition by radical forces in the own camp, it seems that Arafat for a long time thought that the Israeli also need to overcome a strong opposition on their side to the recognition of a Palestinian state on the whole of the occupied territories, but at the end he expected the compromise, that would combine the Arab and the Israeli reading of 242, namely full withdrawal of Israel behind the borders of 67 (Arab view) and recognition of the State of Israel within these borders (Israeli view). Why would that mean already a compromise in the Arab view? Because first of all they never accepted the creation of the state of Israel by the UN in 48, and secondly, the borders Israel before 67 were only cease fire lines and include also a large area dedicated by the UN in 48 to the Arab state in Palestine.
Indeed there has been strong opposition on both sides against the implementation of the Oslo accord, even to the particular interpretation of the “own” side. Gush Emunim (the religious settlers movement) and the parties of the far right have fought against the abandonment of the occupied territories and even a broad majority of the moderate Israelis has been against compromises on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the total abandonment of all settlements (of the latter because of the rejection of the claim that any territory should be “judenrein” (8). Hamas, because of religious arguments, and other radical groups because of their political opposition to Arafat and Al Fatah insisted on the right to establish the own state on the whole territory of Palestine, that includes all of Israel. Despite a series of incidents, including the shooting in the Mosque of Hebron and the assassination of Rabin and continuous attacks in Israel by Hamas and Jihad, Israel and the Palestinian side stuck for a long time to the Oslo process.
It seems that the crucial point was reached in Camp David (9), although this may look paradoxically. Not only in the Israeli view Barak offered to Arafat a maximum, “more than the majority of Israelis would agree, much more than Arafat could reach in the future”. But it was also a conditional offer – it must be the final solution. Arafat would have had to give up any more claims. No real share of Jerusalem, to accept an archipelago of Israeli settlements, or to say it in a more drastic language, more than 200 stings in the flesh of a Palestinian state, divided by countless Israeli corridors to the settlements. This “offer” was the offence to Arafat, not the visit of Sharon to the Al Aksa, which was of course helpful to mobilize the Palestinian public.
Arafat came to the conclusion that further negotiations are senseless (and that was exactly the message he got from Barak –“You will never get more…”). The consequence was the 2nd Intifada, to which Israel reacted in a way, which strengthened day by day the radical Palestinians. In particular Israelis demands of periods of total non-violence before resuming talks with the Palestinian side made Hamas, Jihad and the Al Aksa Brigades the masters of the game. Being totally opposed to the resumption of talks it was easy for them to achieve their immediate goal. Arafat, afraid of loosing his leadership, at least had to tolerate, and within his own Al Fatah camp may be even to authorize or to facilitate some actions.
Israel reacted not only with a definite refusal of talks with Arafat, but in the end with the well-known military action including the siege and humiliation of Arafat. Although stressing that the IDF does not want to stay in the Autonomous Area and he will find “somebody” to negotiate, it seems obvious that Sharon did not have any exit strategy nor do his successors.
The situation far away from peace culminated once again in more and more sophisticated missile attacks of Gaza based Hamas on Israel and the well-known Israeli retaliation on Gaza in 2014. Both sides did not care about heavy criticism from many sides.
Indeed, a solution cannot be imposed from outside. The parties of the conflict must find it. While Fatah has shown in the past flexibility (certainly not always for the better, but still), Hamas does not or cannot because of its fundamentalist ideology. Sharon although not of the calibre of Begin, who made peace with Egypt, and his successors showed at the end some flexibility. It is obvious that Israel as a democracy cannot remain forever or even survive as an occupying force. One the one hand this was recognized by the withdrawal from Gaza, on the other hand the Israeli forces are still in the West Bank and claim to return to Gaza whenever they want. Hamas seems not to be ready to recognize Israel under what conditions ever and not to accept the agreements of PLO with Israel. So for the moment the crisis seems to be unsolvable. Is there any solution?
The solution would have to start at that point, where the Oslo Agreement was too vague and gave space to quite different interpretations.
What Israel needs most desperately, is the right to exist in peace and security within the borders of 1967. Everything else should be subject to future negotiations, although it would be clear that there are some emotional issues like the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, which go beyond. But it would be an illusion that all open questions could be solved by the peace agreement. For the moment both sides are not able to accept the (necessary) compromise in a long list of sensitive questions as there are e.g. not only Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, but the settlements (and here in particular those in the area of Jerusalem), the return and/or compensation of refugees, the exact borders, future share of resources (water!) etc..
What the Palestinian side needs most desperately is the recognition of an independent, sovereign state with the opportunity to exist in peace and security, but also in dignity. As Israel should be recognized at least within the borders of 1967 that means the recognition of a Palestinian state on the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel in 1967 (except the Golan Heights) (10). Again, everything else should be subject to future negotiations (between the two states!), including the exact borders. The agreed principle, however, should be, that this Palestinian state will include the vast majority of these territories and sovereign rights in the Arab part of Jerusalem, which will be the capital (not automatically the seat of all authorities). If the Palestinian side can reach this, it would certainly also strengthen Fatah and force Hamas to accept the reality.
Therefore any new agreement should start with:
A mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the Palestinian State, for both with the right to exist in peace, security and dignity; i.e. for Israel within the borders before 1967, for the Palestinian State on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (except the Golan Heights) and sovereign rights of this state in (East) Jerusalem, which will be also recognized as its official capital. (11)
Israeli territorial claims beyond and the exact borders of the Palestinian State, with the understanding that it will contain in any way the vast majority of the territories in question, as well as the details of sovereign rights in (the Arab part of) Jerusalem will be subject to negotiations between the two states.
Not depending on these negotiations free access to the believers of all religions concerned to there sanctuaries (list should be established by the parties) will be granted and guaranteed by both states. Real estate property of religious institutions and communities will be respected by both states.
A mutual recognition that due to the history and demography there is no space for “ethnically clean” states; therefore there is in principle the right of Arabs to live with equal rights in the State of Israel as well as the right of Jews to live with equal rights in the Palestinian State. The same applies to all ethnic and religious minorities in both states. The right to return for refugees will be subject to negotiations due to principles to be already agreed.
The State of Israel and the Palestinian State will establish a close co-operation in many fields, in particular in
• the protection of ethnic and religious minorities (12)
• the protection of and to access to religious sanctuaries (including cemeteries)
• the economic area with a view to a free trade area and a customs union
• the use of natural resources, in particular water
• border and air space control
• internal security, in particular prevention of and fight against terrorism
• general for the implementation of all current and future agreements
The State of Israel and the Palestinian State will negotiate as equal partners in the spirit of good neighbourhood the following subjects:
• the concrete co-operation in the fields mentioned above
• the exact borders of both states on the basis of the mutual recognition
• a time-table for the hand-over of areas within those borders and for the time being still occupied by Israeli armed forces
• the establishment of joint security check points between Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas
• the sovereign rights of the Palestinian State in the Arab part of the City of Jerusalem and the status of that as the official capital; from the very beginning Israel will recognize e.g. the “Orient House” as a place where only the Palestinian State will exercise sovereign rights;
• the use of a corridor between the two parts of the Palestinian State (West Bank and Gaza Strip)
• military defence and military assistance
• the future of Israeli settlements with various options
• the compensation for lost property of Palestinian refugees and the right to return for certain groups of refugees
• the right of residents of both states to opt for the citizenship of the other state
• the setting-up of joint bodies or authorities, in particular for common administration of natural resources, air control, border control, combat terrorism
• creation of a joint parliamentary delegation or assembly
• common human rights standards, probably based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (13)
• joint co-operation with neighbouring countries, in particular in economic matters (14)
Such an agreement should be guaranteed by the UN, USA, the EU and Russia and recognized by the Council of Europe, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. (15)
Furthermore it should be accompanied by financial assistance from the USA and the EU and others (e.g. Norway or Switzerland) in the areas of
• a fund for compensation of lost property of Palestinian refugees
• a Palestinian Recovery Programme (PRP)
• establishing common authorities
• institution building of the Palestinian State
Other organisations (in particular the Council of Europe) could assist in various areas, like review of history textbooks, human rights education, education for democratic citizenship, institution building, training of young leaders, youth exchange, protection of ethnic and religious minorities, multicultural and inter-religious dialogue etc..
The founding father of Israel, Theodor Herzl, told his fellow Jews “If you will it, it is not a dream”. If both sides will peace, it will not be a dream. But they have to will it now!
(2) 67th UN General Assembly, 44th meeting
(3) Jerusalem Post, November 10, 2014
(4) Chairman Arafat’s letter to Prime Minister Rabin from September 9, 1993
(5) Prime Minister Rabin’s letter to Chairman Arafat from September 9, 1993
(6) UN Security Council Resolution 242(1967) par.1 (i)
(7) UN Security Council Resolution 242(1967) 2nd paragraph of the preamble
(8) « cleansed of Jews », Nazi terminology for areas where all Jews have been either deported or murdered.
(9) 2000 Camp David Summit in July 2000, with US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat
(10) The Golan Heights have been annexed by Israel and are a question between Israel and Syria, now overshadowed also by the civil war in Syria.
(11) The late famous mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek had already the vision that the city could be shared as their capital by the two states.
(12) e.g. Armenians, Bahaï, Bedouins, Druse, Samaritarians, etc.
(13) A possible European contribution could be to accept both states as observer states or even as associated members to the Council of Europe with a view to open the ECHR to them.
(14) Several personalities such as former Jordan Crown Prince Hassan, Chairman Arafat and others and institutions such as the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs saw the Benelux as a model for regional cooperation of Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
(15) Taking into account the large number of Arab citizens of Israel the Arab League could consider a special relation with Israel, e.g. observer status for certain areas
Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage
With Turkish investigators asserting that they have found further evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed when he visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, Turkey appears to be leveraging the case to enhance its position as a leader of the Islamic World and reposition itself as a key US ally.
To enhance its geopolitical position vis a vis Saudi Arabia as well as Russia and Iran and potentially garner economic advantage at a time that it is struggling to reverse a financial downturn, Turkey has so far leaked assertions of evidence it says it has of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing rather than announced them officially.
In doing so, Turkey has forced Saudi Arabia to allow Turkish investigators accompanied by Saudi officials to enter the consulate and positioned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the kingdom’s saviour by engineering a situation that will allow the kingdom to craft a face-saving way out of the crisis.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering announcing that Mr. Khashoggi, a widely-acclaimed journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who went into self-exile because he feared arrest, was killed in either a rogue operation or an attempt gone awry to forcibly repatriate it him back to the kingdom.
US President Donald J. Trump offered the Turks and Saudis a helping hand by referring this week to the possibility of Mr. Khashoggi having been killed by rogues and dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh and Ankara.
Mr. Khashoggi, seeking to obtain proof of his divorce in the kingdom so that he could marry his Turkish fiancé, visited the consulate two weeks ago for the second time after having allegedly received assurances that he would be safe.
Turkey emerges as the crisis moves towards a situation in which an official version is agreed that seeks to shield Prince Mohammed from being held responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder with its international status significantly enhanced.
Turkish leverage is further boosted by the fact that Saudi Arabia — its image in government, political and business circles significantly damaged by the crisis — and the Trump administration that wants to ensure that the kingdom’s ruling family emerges from the crisis as unscathed as possible, are in Ankara’s debt.
As a result, the denouement of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to alter the dynamics in the long-standing competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world.
It also strengthens Turkey’s position in its transactional alliance with Russia and Iran as they manoeuvre to end the war in Syria in a manner that cements Bashar al-Assad’s presidency while addressing Turkish concerns.
Turkey’s position in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia is likely to also benefit from the fact that whatever face-saving solution the kingdom adopts is likely to be flawed when tested by available facts and certain to be challenged by a host of critics, even if many will see Turkey as having facilitated a political solution rather than ensuring that the truth is established.
Already, Mr. Khashoggi’s family who was initially quoted by Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media as backing Saudi denials of responsibility, insinuations that his fate was the product of a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, and casting doubt on the integrity of the journalist’s Turkish fiancée, has called for “the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia differ on multiple issues that divide the Muslim world. Turkey has vowed to help Iran circumvent Saudi-supported US sanctions imposed after Mr. Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear agreement.
Turkey further backs Qatar in its dispute with a Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance that has diplomatically and economically boycotted the Gulf state for the last 16 months. The credibility of the alliance’s allegation that Qatar supports terrorism and extremism has been dented by the growing conviction that Saudi Arabia, whether in a planned, rogue or repatriation effort gone wrong, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
Mr. Khashoggi’s death, moreover, highlighted differing approaches towards the Brotherhood, one of the Middle East’s most persecuted, yet influential Islamist groupings. Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and Egypt, have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Many brothers have sought refuge in Turkey with Mr. Erdogan empathetic and supportive of the group. A former brother, Mr. Khashoggi criticized Saudi repression of the group.
The Saudi-Turkish rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world was most evident in the two countries’ responses to Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his as yet unpublished plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Turkey emerged as the leader of Islamic denunciation of Mr. Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognition of the city as Israel’s capital after Prince Mohammed tried to dampen opposition. Ultimately, King Salman was forced to step in a bid to clarify the kingdom’s position and counter Turkish moves.
No matter how Turkey decides to officially release whatever evidence it has, Saudi Arabia figures out how to respond and halt the haemorrhaging, and Mr. Pompeo holds talks with King Salman and Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is likely to emerge from the crisis strengthened despite its increasingly illiberal and increasingly authoritarian rule at home,
Turkey’s success is all the more remarkable given that it has neither Saudi Arabia’s financial muscle nor the mantle the kingdom adopts as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.
A successful political resolution of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to earn it the gratitude of the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, and its other detractors like the UAE who support the kingdom even if it may help it to regain popularity in the Arab world lost as a result of its swing towards authoritarianism, alliance with Iran and Qatar, and support for Islamism.
One immediate Turkish victory is likely to be Saudi acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s demand that Saudi Arabia drop its support for Kurdish rebels in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists – a move that would boost Turkey’s position the Turkish-Russian-Iranian jockeying for influence in a post-war Syria. Turkey is also likely to see Saudi Arabia support it economically.
Turkey may, however, be playing for higher stakes.
Turkey “wants to back Saudi Arabia to the wall. (It wants to) disparage the ‘reformist’ image that Saudi Arabia has been constructing in the West” in a bid to get the US to choose Ankara as its primary ally in the Middle East, said international relations scholar Serhat Guvenc.
Turkey’s relations in recent years have soured as a result of Turkish insistence that the US is harbouring a terrorist by refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the preacher it accuses of having engineered the failed 2016 coup; detaining American nationals and US consulate employees on allegedly trumped up charges, cosying up to Russia and purchasing its S-400 surface to air missile system, and aligning itself with Iran. Relations were further strained by US support for Syrian Kurds.
Mr. Trump, however this week heralded a new era in US-Turkish relations after the release of unsubscribeAndrew Brunson, an evangelist preacher who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges of espionage.
Mr. Guvenc argued that Turkey hopes that Saudi Arabia’s battered image will help it persuade Mr. Trump that Turkey rather than the kingdom is its strongest and most reliable ally alongside Israel in the Middle East.
Said journalist Ferhat Unlu: “”Turkey knows how to manage diplomatic crises. Its strategy is to manage tensions to its advantage,”
MbS: Riding roughshod or playing a risky game of bluff poker?
A stalemate in efforts to determine what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is threatening to escalate into a crisis that could usher in a new era in relations between the United States and some of its closest Arab allies as well as in the region’s energy politics.
In response to US President Donald J. Trump’s threat of “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is proven to have been responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance while visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia is threatening to potentially upset the region’s energy and security architecture.
A tweet by Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy thanking the United States for not jumping to conclusions did little to offset the words of an unnamed Saudi official quoted by the state-run news agency stressing the kingdom’s “total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations.”
The official was referring to the kingdom’s insistence that it was not responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and assertion that it is confronting a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The kingdom also affirms that if it is (targeted by) any action, it will respond with greater action,” the official said noting that Saudi Arabia “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy.”
Turki Aldhakhil, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and general manager of the kingdom’s state-controlled Al Arabiya news network, claimed in an online article that Saudi leaders were discussing 30 ways of responding to possible US sanctions.
They allegedly included allowing oil prices to rise up to US$ 200 per barrel, which according to Mr. Aldhakhil, would lead to “the death” of the US economy, pricing Saudi oil in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, an end to intelligence sharing, and a military alliance with Russia that would involve a Russian military base in the kingdom.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Aldhakhil was reflecting serious discussions among secretive Saudi leaders or whether his article was intended either as a scare tactic or a trial balloon. Mr. Aldakhil’s claim that a Saudi response to Western sanctions could entail a reconciliation with the kingdom’s arch enemy, Iran, would make his assertion seem more like geopolitical and economic bluff.
Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a coordinated response aimed at demonstrating that Saudi Arabia was not isolated, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt rushed to express solidarity with the kingdom. Like Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have a track record of suppressing independent journalism and freedom of the press.
Ironically, Turkey may be the kingdom’s best friend in the Khashoggi crisis if its claims to have incontrovertible proof of what happened in the consulate prove to be true. Turkey has so far refrained from making that evidence public, giving Saudi Arabia the opportunity to come up with a credible explanation.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip “Erdogan wants to give Saudis an exit out of #Khashoggi case, hoping the Saudi king/crown prince will blame ‘rogue elements’ for the alleged murder, then throwing someone important under the bus. This would let Erdogan walk away looking good & prevent rupture in Turkey-Saudi ties,” tweeted Turkey scholar Soner Cagaptay.
The Saudi news agency report and Mr. Aldakhil’s article suggest that Prince Mohammed believes that Saudi Arabia either retains the clout to impose its will on much of the international community or believes that it rather than its Western critics would emerge on top from any bruising confrontation.
Prince Mohammed no doubt is reinforced in his belief by Mr. Trump’s reluctance to include an arms embargo in his concept of severe punishment. He may also feel that Western support for the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and reluctance to credibly take the kingdom to task for its conduct of the war was an indication that he was free to do as he pleased.
Prince Mohammed may have been further strengthened in his belief by the initial course of events 28 years ago, the last time that the fate of a journalist was at the centre of a crisis between a Western power and an Arab country.
At the time, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, similar to Mr. Trump’s inclination, refused to impose economic sanctions after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered the arrest, torture and execution of Farhad Barzoft, a young London-based Iranian journalist who reported for The Observer.
Since declassified British government documents disclosed that Mrs. Thatcher’s government did not want to jeopardize commercial relations despite its view of the Iraqi government as a “ruthless and disagreeable regime.”
The comparison between the Khashoggi crisis and the case of Mr. Barzoft goes beyond Western governments’ reluctance to jeopardize commercial relationships.
Mr Barzoft was executed months before Mr. Hussein’s military invaded Kuwait prompting US-led military action that forced his troops to withdraw from the Gulf state, crippling economic sanctions, and ultimately the 2003 Gulf War that, no matter how ill-advised, led to the Iraqi leader’s downfall and ultimate execution.
Prince Mohammed’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen, of which Mr. Khashoggi was critical in one of his last Washington Post columns, has tarnished the kingdom’s international prestige and sparked calls in the US Congress and European parliaments for an embargo on arms sales that have gained momentum with the disappearance of the Saudi journalist.
To be sure Saudi Arabia enjoys greater leverage than Iraq did in 1990. By the same token, 2018 is not 1973, the first and only time the kingdom ever wielded oil as a weapon against the United States. At the time, the US was dependent on Middle Eastern oil, today it is one of, if not the world’s largest producer.
More fundamentally, Prince Mohammed appears to show some of the traits Mr. Hussein put on display, including a seeming lack of understanding of the limits of power and best ways to wield it, a tendency towards impetuousness, a willingness to take risks and gamble without having a credible exit strategy, a refusal to tolerate any form of criticism, and a streak of ruthlessness.
“We’re discovering what this ‘new king’ is all about, and it’s getting worrisome. The dark side is getting darker,” said David Ottaway, a journalist and scholar who has covered Saudi Arabia for decades.
Mr. Hussein was public and transparent about Mr. Barzoft’s fate even if his assertion that the journalist was a spy lacked credibility and the journalist’s confession and trial were a mockery of justice.
Prince Mohammed flatly denies any involvement in the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi and appears to believe that he can bully himself out of the crisis in the absence of any evidence that the journalist left the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate of his own volition.
Mr. Hussein miscalculated with his invasion of Kuwait shortly after getting away with the killing of Mr. Barzoft.
Prince Mohammed too may well have miscalculated if the kingdom is proven to be responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Mr. Hussein’s reputation and international goodwill was irreparably damaged by his execution of Mr. Barzoft and invasion of Kuwait.
Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has dealt a body blow to Saudi Arabia’s prestige irrespective of whether the journalist emerges from the current crisis alive or dead.
King Salman and the kingdom appear for now to be rallying the wagons around the crown prince.
At the same time, the king has stepped into the fray publicly for the first time by phoning Turkish president Erdogan to reaffirm Saudi cooperation with an investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate.
It remains unclear whether that phone call will pave the way for Turkish investigators to enter the Istanbul consulate as well as the Saudi consul general’s home and whether they will be allowed to carry out forensics.
The longer the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate stalls, the more Saudi Arabia will come under pressure to put forth a credible explanation and the harder Western leaders will be pressed by public opinion and lawmakers to take credible action if Saudi Arabia is proven to be responsible.
A Saudi decision to act on its threats to rejigger its security arrangements and energy policy, even if overstated by Mr. Aldhakhil, in response to steps by Western nations to penalize the kingdom, could prove to have not only far-reaching international consequences but, in the final analysis, also equally momentous domestic ones.
“Looks like #Saudi royal family is coming together to protect the family business. Eventually there will be internal reckoning with what transpired. Not now. Now is the time to save the family reign,” tweeted Middle East scholar Randa Slim.
Said former US State Department and White House official Elliott Abrams: “Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.”
Syrian Kurds between Washington, Turkey and Damascus
The recent turmoil over Idlib has pushed the developments in Syrian Kurdistan out of political and mass media spotlight. However, it’s Idlib that will most likely host the final act of the drama, which has become known as the “civil war in Syria”.
The self-proclaimed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), or Rojava, was formed in 2016, although de facto it has existed since 2012. Added later was the hydrocarbon-rich left bank of the Euphrates, which had been cleared of militants of ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), and now the jurisdiction of the unrecognized DFNS extends to almost a third of the country’s territory.
From the very start the main threat to the existence of this predominantly Kurdish quasi-state came for obvious reasons from Turkey, where Turkish Kurds were set on securing autonomy. In addition, the most influential political force in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the latter has officially been declared a terrorist organization and unofficially – a number one enemy – in Turkey.
In January-March 2018, the Turkish army, backed by the Arab and Turkomanen allies, occupied part of the territory of Rojava (canton Afrin). And it looks like Ankara plans to settle on these territories: recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Afrin will be transferred to its residents “when the time comes” and that “this time will be set by us”. In the meantime, according to local media reports, the demographic situation in the canton is changing rapidly. Taking advantage of the fact that many Kurds left their homes at the approach of the Turkish army, the local (in fact, Turkish) administration is bringing in Arabs here, who, in many cases, are not Syrian Arabs.
Kurdish politicians, fully aware of the fact that amid Turkey, Iran and Syria maintaining statehood without outside assistance is hardly possible, opted for the patronage of Washington. And, as it seems, they lost.
In Syria, the Americans decided to replay the “Kosovo scenario”, by turning part of a sovereign state into a political structure, which is allied to them. Washington, which only recently excluded the People’s Protection Units (the armed wing of the Democratic Forces), from the list of terrorist organizations, argues, like Ankara, that its military personnel will remain in the region “for an indefinite period” to protect Kurdish territories from “aggression” on the part of Damascus. And from Ankara’s ambitions as well. But this is read between the lines.
All this enabled Turkey to accuse the United States of supporting terrorism and relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated into a crisis. As mutual accusations, occasionally supported by political and economic demarches, persist, the parties, however, are beginning to look for common ground. Talks on June 4, 2018 in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo resulted in a “road map” for the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from predominantly Arab Manbij, which Kurds regained control of from ISIL (an organization banned in Russia) two years ago. The next day, the Turkish minister announced that the Kurdish troops “… would retreat east of the Euphrates. However, this does not mean that we will agree that they stay there. ” On September 24, 2018, upon arriving at the UN General Assembly, Erdogan confirmed: Turkey will expand its sphere of influence in Syria, by including areas that are under control of the Kurdish armed units.
If Turkey does not change its rhetoric, then the assurances of the American authorities that the US troops will remain in Syria are intermingled with statements about the need for the withdrawal of its forces from this country. In any case, it is unlikely that the United States will choose to leave the region “to its own devices”. We can recall how Washington trumpeted the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan! But things haven’t budged an inch since then. The Afghanistan example demonstrates that the Americans will not move out of Syria that easily – they will not pull out in full, at least not of their own free will. US instructors and pilots will remain here “for an indefinite period.” But who will they care of and support? Here are the options:
Firstly, it could be a hypothetical “Arab NATO” with Saudi Arabia in the lead. But there are serious doubts as to the effectiveness of such a structure – even if we forget about the level of combat readiness of these kinds of coalitions (in Yemen, for example), Arab countries could unite only on an anti-Israeli platform. And that, as history shows, is unlikely to yield success. In addition to this, it is still unclear how Kurds, the majority of whom are not religious, will react to Wahhabi commanders.
Secondly, the United States could choose to strengthen the Arab sector of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (Rojava militia) at the expense of the Kurds. In mid-September, a number of media outlets, citing sources in the Syrian opposition, reported that Saudi emissaries had already suggested this option while meeting with leaders of the Arab tribes living east of the Euphrates. However, this development is also fraught with the Kurdish-Arab confrontation.
Thirdly, Washington persists in its attempts to improve relations with Turkey, distancing it from Russia and Iran, and instruct it to “maintain order” in the region: the Americans did not intervene in the Operation Olive Branch and made concessions on Manbij. Even though this might seem strange amid the hostile American-Turkish rhetoric, military and political contacts between Washington and Ankara have been on the rise in recent months. Moreover, President Erdogan has already stated that he believes in an early improvement of relations with the United States despite the “inconsistency” and “economic aggression” of Washington.
Meanwhile, we need to remember that the US control over Kurds is far from unlimited. The “people’s protection units” are ideologically close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or could even be seen as its “branch” in Syria), and the PKK itself, grown on the Marxist ideas, would normally support the Soviet Union and “by inertia” – Russia. For this reason, the Americans have to threaten the Kurdish allies with a cessation of military and financial support. Reports say the US and Turkish troops are already operating in the Manbij area, having dislodged the Kurdish YPG militia from the area.
These threats, along with the self-withdrawal of the United States during the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops, have made Kurds doubt the reliability of their patron. The result is a move towards rapprochement with Damascus. In late July, the Kurdish leadership announced an agreement with the Syrian authorities on the creation of a “road map” for the formation of a decentralized Syria.
The Americans are not sitting idle either, though it looks like they have no concrete plan of action. Such a conclusion comes from Donald Trump’s somewhat incoherent answers to questions from a correspondent of the Kurdish media group Rudaw (09/27/2018):
Question: What are you planning to do for (Syrian – AI) Kurds?
Answer: We will offer them a lot of help. As you know, we are good friends to them, we fought shoulder to shoulder with ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), we recently defeated ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation). We accomplished this with the support of the Kurds. They are great warriors. You know, some nations are great warriors, and some are not. The Kurds are great warriors, they are a wonderful people. We are currently negotiating this.
Question: So what will you do to support them?
Answer: As I said, we will negotiate this, we have begun negotiations. The Kurds have helped us a lot to crush ISIS (an organization banned in the Russian Federation).
Most likely, the hot phase of the protracted inter-Syrian conflict is nearing its end, and the preferences of the Kurds will determine the outcome of future elections, a referendum, or another form of will expression of the Syrian people, when the political situation allows it. Moscow has always called for involving Kurds in the negotiation process and on ensuring their full participation in the life of post-war Syria. “Russia insists that Kurds should participate in the process to determine the post-conflict future of Syria on a parity basis with other ethnic and religious groups of this country,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama.
Until recently, Damascus did not particularly pedal negotiations with Rojava, but being aware that the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops was not in its interests, it has adjusted its approach to the self-proclaimed territorial entity. It looks like Syrian leaders have opted for softening their stance, which was previously set on the revival of the country on the basis of unitarism. Otherwise, an agreement with the Kurds will be nowhere in sight.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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