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Palestinian Myths: Building a National History (B)

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Let us elaborate this by relating to misconceptions in Western public opinion concerning the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first misconception is the number of fatalities. Since WWII, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the national conflict with the lowest number of victims, and at the same time, with the world’s highest number of publications in the academia and attention in the media. Palestinians dead by Israel will cause endless headlines and articles all over the world, but Palestinian massacre and murder by other Palestinians will receive only few lines. That is also the case with the Arab states.

Moreover, if entire villages are destroyed in Sudan and a genocidal apparatus occur there, or when many Arab states are set on fire with huge massacre and destruction as in the last five years of “Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter” (mistakenly called “Arab Spring”) there will be only moderate attention if any on TV. The amount of attention the so-called Palestinians get from the international media and world public opinion is amazingly huge and at the same time baseless compare to other world situations.  

There is another and more dramatic countdown – the total amount of those killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1882 up to 2006 are 75,000. 85% of them are from Arab states, and almost half of them Egyptians. Only 9000 were Palestinians killed by Israel, most of them during the two Intifadas (1800 and 3,700). Not millions. Not hundreds of thousands, and not tens of thousands.

Compare this to the 20 to 30 thousands Palestinians killed by king Hussein of Jordan in one month, in September 1970; or to the 8000 Palestinians killed by the Syrian President, Asad, in Lebanon in November-December 1983; or to the 6000 Palestinians killed by their own brothers in the “Arab Revolt” of 1936 to 1939; or to the hundreds killed only the few months in Gaza by the war between Hamas and Fath, in 2007; or to the destruction of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, during the war in 2014.

Compare this to the millions killed in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, or the total destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen as states and societies during the last five years of the Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter.

Compare the situation of the millions of Arab refugees, running from their ruined cities and villages, being under real annihilation, to the situation of the so-called “Palestinian refugees.”

Compare the billions of dollars the Palestinians get, for the rehabilitation of these refugees (and mostly goes to terrorism and corruption of their leadership), and what the Arab, only Arab, refugees get. They have nothing and get nothing. One group gets everything and the other group, much bigger in numbers, gets nothing.  

Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians “refugees” get a monthly generous food parcel, education and social assistance, so that at least a billion of people around the world never dream to have and never get.

Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians who live in proportional social and economic prosperity to the standard of living of at least 80 other states around the world, including Arab states.

According to the UN data, one billion people around the world earn less than two dollars a day. The UN has coined the term the “Fourth World” relating to these peoples. One will not find even one Palestinian among them.          

According to the UN data, 40% of world population drink polluted infected water, and thousands of children die every day only for that reason. One will not find even one Palestinian among them. They get fresh high quality water from Israel, who thanks to its sophisticated industry can export water from this desert area.

Indeed, the Palestinians get so much money and attention as compare to so many other countries and people around the world that it has become a disgrace to the world. They are the only people that gets more and more and they do not work for it.

The second misconception, a most important one, is related to the meaning of occupation. When Palestinians say ‘Israeli occupation,’ it is not the 1967 occupation, but the 1948 occupation, and it is not the 1967 borders and not the 1947 borders, but the entire territory of Israel. When they murder and massacre Israelis by inhuman terrorism, it is not because of the “occupation”, and not because of the “settlements”, but because Israel is a Jewish Zionist state living on that land, even one inch of this land.

The so-called “occupied territories” have no relevance to the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is just another problem in a large set of complex issues which firstly must be focused on the recognition of Israel as a state and as a nation. Let me elaborate this by quoting the formal Palestinian ideological attitude toward Israel, so as to expose what they mean by “occupation.”

In the Palestinian National Covenant of the PLO, one can find the following declarations as a political ideology:

Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinians assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 9). The liberation of Palestine means to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression, and aims at the elimination of Zionism from Palestine in its entirety (Article 15). The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 are entirely illegal (Article 19).

The Balfour Declaration [1917], the Mandate for Palestine [1919 and 1920], and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of the Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history. Judaism, being only a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own. They are only citizens of the states to which they belong (Article 20).

The Palestinian people, expressing himself by the armed revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 21). The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace (Article 22). This Charter shall not be amended save by [vote of] a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National assembly of the PLO [taken] at a special session convened for that purpose (Article 33).

As for Hamas, in its Charter it declared clearly:

Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it… [Hamas] strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine (Article 6). The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1930’s, and it includes the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war and all Jihad operations… The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the and kill the Jews, and when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Muslims, O the servants of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him (Article 7).

The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to deny that. Palestine in its entirety belongs only to the Palestinians. This is the law governing the Islamic Shari’ah (article 11).

Nothing is more significant or deeper than Jihad against the Zionist enemy. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. Abusing any part of Palestine is tantamount to abuse part of the religion [which means death]. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad to eliminate the Zionist invasion. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors (Article 13). It is the utmost necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the Muslim nation (Article 15)… Jihad is the path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of all wishes…

This is the ideology. There is no mentioning of the occupation of 1967 borders or peace with Israel in any borders. Indeed, it has never been “the occupation of 1967” but Israeli legitimacy to exist as a Jewish Zionist state.

What about the operational level? The town of Sderot is not in the 1967 occupied territories, nor the town of Ashkelon or all the villages and Kibbutzim around Gaza. They are all in the 1948 Israeli territory, but they are shelled and bombed on a daily basis.

Israel has left Gaza to the last inch in August 2005, by its own decision; willingly. And what happened? Is there peace and tranquility around? The situation has worsened and exacerbated without any comparison to the past when Israel was in Gaza. Hamas has won over the Palestinian Authority, and there erupted three small wars over Gaza. Billions of dollars continue to pour to Gaza, and the result? All the evidence prove that a fourth small war is coming, and the Hamas government continues its aggression.  

If the problem is 1967 borders, why do they continue bombing Israeli cities inside the 1948 border? If they are innocent in their demand to free only the 1967 occupied territories, why do they terrorize and shell the 1948 territories? If they want to liberate the 1967 territories, why do they use homicide bombers against Israeli citizens inside the 1948 borders? If the issue is 1967 borders, why do they dig tunnels into Israeli area to hit villages in the 1948 borders?

The clear proof is found in Gaza. Israel has totally retreated from Gaza, to the last soldier and settler to the last cm. there is no occupation in Gaza. And what happened? Hamas won the elections; Iranian officers, Hizballah personnel and al-Qaeda groups are already in Gaza, now the members of the Islamic Caliphate State.

Indeed, on June 20, 2007, Islamist websites posted a 13-minute video, titled: A message from Jaysh al-Islam to ‘Izz Al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, congratulating the establishment of Islamic Emirate (al-Khilafah al-Islamiyah) in Gaza. On June 25, 2007, al-Qaeda deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, calls on Hamas to enforce the Shari’ah in Gaza and to become the front-base of World Jihad. Muhammad Nazzal, a Hamas leader, has declared: if al-Qaeda wants to come to Palestine, they are welcome.

Domestically, there was chaos and anarchy in Gaza between the Palestinians groups themselves. They murdered and butchered each other; they killed injuries in the ambulances and in hospitals; they burn out mosques and shelled universities; they targeted women and children; and all these done openly and it was televised, without any reaction or even attention of world public opinion. One can find TV executions done by the Hamas terrorists against Fath terrorists in the streets. Had Israel done much less than these atrocities, the entire world would have erupted in rage against Israel. Moreover, had Israel given Abu-Mazen full support he would have not survive as the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas won in the so-called West Bank.

Indeed the problem is not, and it has never been the 1967 occupation. Moreover, the conclusion of “the 1967 occupation” will not end the conflict, perhaps, as the Gaza example teaches us, will exacerbate it.

Arab and Palestinian leaders continue to sell the fraudulent mantra that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the heart of the problem and the cause of hostility and violence in the Middle East,” but they know that this claim has not a grain of truth. The conflicts and foci of violence in the Middle East are many and sundry, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of them, and is definitely not the problematic one.

The Arab and Palestinian leadership rides on this wave, in order to hide the collective Arab shame over the lack of unity and the hostility among themselves, and in order to “threaten’ Western interests in the Middle East and to gain its support. The Middle East is almost ruined out of the last five years of atrocities and the disappearance of the state system. There are failed states in the Middle East, and Israel has nothing to do with it, but still has become in world public opinion as the scapegoat to these disasters.

The third misconception is that when the Palestinians declare the two-state solution, it also includes the implementing of “the right of return” of the Palestinian refugees inside the Israeli state. When Israel and the world refer to “the Jewish and Palestinian state solution,” the Palestinians declare instead “the two states solution.” The difference is huge and decisive. They do not mean a Jewish state beside a Palestinian one, but a Palestinian state beside a multi-national or all its citizen state, very soon to become another Palestinian state. Abu Mazen and all the Palestinian leadership clearly declare they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Then, on what terms we talk about?

Indeed, the Palestinian demands are as follows: first, the total Israeli retreat to the 1967 borders, and then to solve the refugee problem inside Israel in its 1967 borders, according to Saeb ‘Areqat and Abu Mazen himself, seven million Palestinians. This is not a peace solution, but a peace of the grave for the Jewish people. In the long run it means one big Palestinian state from the Sea to the River. It also means with high probability, the end of Jordan, being a part of historic Palestine, and Palestinians being 70% of its population.

Two states will disappear for the establishment of one Palestinian state that already exists de Facto: 94 percent of the Palestinians in western area of the Jordan live by their own governmental system and under a Palestinian rule.  

The fourth misconception is the belief that Palestinian society is ready and willing for the historical compromise with Israel. Well, Habeas Corpus. Please, anyone who thinks he can, please do it; please, prove it is possible. Sadat came to Jerusalem. Please bring the Palestinians to take his model. Indeed, monitoring the Palestinian communications media; reading the total incitement in educational institutions; listening to the sermons in the Mosques; watching the leaders’ declarations and their political and social agenda; and listening to the anti-Semite speeches and declarations thundering in the streets – all these uncover an atrocious picture as to the nature of Palestinian hostility toward Israel.

Unfortunately, the result will be very highly disappointing to any optimistic person who has a good will and a political drive to bring calm to this area. Anyone will find out that it is very complex attempt to conclude peace with a society that has undergone such processes of socialization and indoctrination of hatred and animosity; that has poisoned its own youth with so highly venom of incitement. Before everything else, we must cut off the vicious circle of the deadly indoctrination to death and Shahadah, homicide bombings, among the Palestinians.

This is the reason why there are the Israeli road barriers. Yair Lapid, one of the Israeli leftist journalists and novelists, has addressed a British lecturer, after the UCU ban on the Israeli academia:

You are right. The most humanitarian act is to take off the security barriers. However, In that case I will die, and I really do not want to die. The only thing that interest me is that the bus my daughter takes to reach her target will not be exploded by a so-called freedom fighter. She only wants to live. Please, promise me this, and you will see all the barriers vanish. Promise me that the terrorists will not use innocent people – small kids and old ladies, or other means to pass over weaponry and bombs devices for murdering Jews in Israel, and you will not see security barriers and other barriers. Promise me to stop the vicious unprecedented phenomenon of the homicide bombers and you will not find barriers. All I ask is just you to understand that I do not want to die. And please don’t tell me that the problem is the occupation. Palestinian terrorism was perpetuated in the 1920’s and 1930’s, much before Israel was established. The occupation should be removed, but terrorism and homicide bombers must be stopped much before. I want to live. So is my family, and this is my utmost priority; and this is why the barriers are so important.

The fifth misconception is related to the religious variable when discussing tolerance. We can unfortunately conclude that in the Middle East, for the time being, religion is not a constructive factor to bringing peace and harmony. Let’s look at the balance sheet:

In Palestine. The Christian plight in Mandatory. Palestine represents the harsh situation and their persecution. From almost 18% of the overall population in 1948, they are now less than 3%, and countdown continues. In 1948, the Bethlehem area was 87% Christian. In 1990, it became 60%, and in 2005 it is less than 15%; and todat only few percent. Joseph Farah, a Christian Arab details: They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being systematically persecuted. This is a massive display of ethnic cleansing and population movement which is covered up by the international media. But the worst is that the perpetrators of these crimes successfully blame Israel for committing them.

In Sudan. There were three waves of genocide onslaught against the black Christians of the south in which millions have massacred and annihilated. The third one, since 1983, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have died from war crimes, and about 2 million have become refugees. Sudan’s genocidal campaign of massacre, torture, rape and starvation is most significant in the world. Sudanese now massacre black Muslims by hundreds of thousands in Darfur, creating 2.5 million new refugees, only because they are black Muslims and not Arabs. This is one of the greatest holocaust to a people since World War II, second only to the Jews and the Armenians.

The man who has uncovered the hideous atrocious massacre in Darfur, is brian Steidel, a volunteer in the Peace Force. One can watch his dreadful film “the Devil on the horseback.” It is worth mentioning that Sudan is an honorable member in the UN Human Rights Committee and other UN committees, and presiding some of them. However, compare this genocide massacre and the attention it gets compare to how the Palestinians are lucky to get all international attention and support, while they are committing the terrorist crimes.

In Iraq. The Christians were 5% of the population in 1930, and now they have almost annihilated – less than 1%. First, there was Saddam Hussein; then when Iraq has become a failed state, due to the US march of folly in the Middle East, the Muslim groups and organizations are perpetrating a genocide against Christians, including the destruction of world historical heritage sites.

To this story of the mass genocide one may add the persecution of the Kurds by hundreds of thousands, and since 2003, another front has been opened: the massacre of Muslim Shiites by Muslim Sunnis through terrorist acts, by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. He should be regarded perhaps the greatest terrorist ever, who was the father and the Mentor of the Islamic Caliphate State. `Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist, assesses: Not since the Nazi era has there been anything like the declaration of war on the Shiites in Iraq. The Sunnis persecute the Shiites and declare them infidels. al-Qaeda is waging a war of collective extermination against the Shiites in Iraq.

In Egypt. There is constant harassment and persecution of the Coptic Christians. The Egyptian reformist, Tarik Heggy details: the Copts live in a deep religious intolerance, hateful fanaticism and mortal persecution.

In Algeria, the government embarked on a campaign of forced Arabization of the non-Arab Berber Muslim population, including social and economic harassment. From 1992 there is an internal civil war with 130,000 of fatalities.

In Lebanon, the Christians comprised 86% of the population in 1920, and now they are less than 20%, and counting down.

Majid Aziza, an Arab liberal scholar analyzes the plight of the Christians in the Muslim world: They are massacred and tortured, their communities were destroyed, and the acts of coercion, discrimination, and collective expulsion have caused the almost disappearance of the Christian from the Middle East

Gaza has shown the worst behavior of civil war, to the extent that Watch Organization accused both sides with perpetuating war crimes against civilians. We hear new songs: Fath accuses Hamas of perpetuating Nazi means, being blood suckers. Abu Mazen has declared: “Hamas are the sons of evil… the worst enemies of the Palestinians… they deserve death… Hamas have brought Hezbollah and Iran… This is a struggle against the Emirate of Darkness and Backwardness. Gaza will turn into a Taliban-style Islamic emirate with Iranian and Syrian support…”

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Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi sports diplomacy is proving to be a mirror image of the kingdom’s challenged domestic, regional and foreign policies.

Overlorded by sports czar Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi sports diplomacy, like the kingdom’s broader policies, has produced at best mixed results, suggesting that financial muscle coupled with varying degrees of coercion does not guarantee success.

Mr. Al-Sheikh, a 37-year old brash and often blunt former honorary president of Saudi soccer club Al Taawoun based in Buraidah, a stronghold of religious ultra-conservatism, and a former bodyguard of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is together with Saud al-Qahtani among the king-in-waiting’s closest associates.

Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest investors, acknowledged Mr. Al-Sheikh’s ranking in the Saudi hierarchy when he made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to Saudi soccer club Al Hilal FC weeks after having been released from detention.

Prince al-Waleed was one of the more recalcitrant detainees among the scores of members of the ruling family, prominent businessmen and senior officials who were detained a year ago in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel as part of Prince Mohammed’s power and asset grab.

Prince Al-Waleed said on Twitter at the time that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”

Mr. Al-Qahtani, who was recently fired as Prince Mohammed’s menacing information czar in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was banned this week from travelling outside the kingdom. Mr. Al-Sheikh has not been linked to the Khashoggi murder.

Nevertheless, his sports diplomacy, exhibiting some of the brashness that has characterized Prince Mohammed as well as Mr Al-Qahtani’s approach, has largely failed to achieve its goals. If anything, it appears to have contributed to the kingdom’s growing list of setbacks.

Those goals included establishing Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse in regional and global soccer governance; countering Qatari sports diplomacy crowned by its hosting of the 2022 World Cup; projecting the kingdom in a more favourable light by hosting international sporting events; becoming a powerhouse in soccer-crazy Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation; and using the competition for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to bully Morocco into supporting the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led boycott of Qatar.

To be sure, with the exception of a cancelled tennis exhibition match in Jeddah between stars Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, most scheduled sporting events, including this season’s opening Formula E race in December and the Italian Supercoppa between Juventus and AC Milan in January, are going ahead as planned despite a six-week old crisis sparked by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Yet, if last month’s friendly soccer match in Jeddah between Brazil and Argentina and this month’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Crown Jewel showpiece are anything to go by, major sporting events are doing little to polish the kingdom’s image tarnished not only by the Khashoggi killing but also the war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The sports events have so far failed to push Mr. Khashoggi and Yemen out of the headlines of major independent media.

Mainstream media coverage of Saudi sports has, moreover, focussed primarily on Saudi sports diplomacy’s struggle to make its mark internationally. One focus been the fact that Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer body FIFA, has run into opposition from the group’s European affiliate, UEFA, to his plan to endorse a US$25 billion plan for a new club tournament funded by the Saudi and UAE-backed Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

If adopted, the plan would enhance Saudi and Emirati influence in global soccer governance to the potential detriment of Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and the UAE spearhead a 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar designed to force it to surrender its right to chart an independent course rather than align its policies with those of its Gulf brothers.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to engineer a situation in which Qatar is either deprived of its hosting rights or forced to share them with other states in the region, a possibility Mr. Infantino has said he was exploring.

Mr. Infantino has also said he was looking into implementing an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams already in 2022 rather than only in 2026. An expansion of the Qatari World Cup would probably involve including others in the Gulf as hosts of the tournament. Qatari officials have all but ruled out sharing their hosting rights.

Another media focus has been alleged Saudi piracy aimed at undermining Qatar-owned BeIN Corp, the world’s biggest sports rights holder, including the rights to broadcast last summer’s Russia World Cup in the Arab world.

Mr. Al-Qahtani reportedly played a key role in the sudden emergence of BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat that ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.

The piracy has sparked international lawsuits, including international arbitration in which BeIN is seeking US1 billion in damages from Saudi Arabia. The company has also filed a case with the World Trade Organization.

FIFA has said it has taken steps to prepare for legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have been affected to protect their interests.

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s effort to create with funds widely believed to have been provided by Prince Mohammed an international Saudi sports portfolio that would project the kingdom as a regional power broker collapsed with fans, players and club executives in Egypt furious at the Saudi officials buying influence and using it to benefit Saudi rather than Egyptian clubs.

“No one, no one at all — with all due respect to Turki or no Turki … will be allowed to interfere in the club’s affairs,” said Mahmoud el-Khatib, chairman of Egyptian club Al Ahli SC, one of the Middle East’s most popular clubs with an estimated 50 million fans. Mr. Al-Sheikh had unsuccessfully tried to use his recently acquired honorary chairmanship of Al Ahli to take control of the club.

Al Ahli’s rejection of his power grab persuaded Mr. Al-Sheikh to resign in May and instead bankroll Al Ahli rival Pyramid FC. He invested US$33 million to acquire three top Brazilian players and launch a sports channel dedicated to the team.

The club’s fans, like their Al Ahli counterparts, nonetheless, denounced Mr. Al-Sheikh and the kingdom and insulted the Saudi official’s mother in crass terms during a match in September. Mr. Al-Sheikh decided to abandon his Egyptian adventure after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ignored his request to intervene. “Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day. Why the headache?” Mr Al-Sheikh said on Facebook.

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s attempt to form a regional powerbase by creating a breakaway group of South Asian and Middle Eastern soccer federations beyond the confines of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) collapsed five months after the formation of the South-West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) when seven South Asian nations pulled out with immediate effect.

The collapse of SWAFF and Mr. Al-Sheikh’s withdrawal from Egypt were preceded by his backing of the US-Canadian-Mexican bid for the 2026 World Cup against Morocco after he failed to bully the North Africans into supporting the boycott of Qatar.

Adopting a Saudi Arabia First approach, Mr. Al-Sheikh noted that the United States “is our biggest and strongest ally.” He recalled that when the World Cup was played in 1994 in nine American cities, the US “was one of our favourites. The fans were numerous, and the Saudi team achieved good results.”

That was Mr. Al-Sheikh’s position six months ago. Today, men like Prince Mohammed and Messrs. Al-Sheikh and Al-Qahtani are seething. US President Donald J. Trump is proving to be an unreliable ally. Not only is he pressuring the kingdom to come up with a credible explanation for Mr. Khashoggis’ killing, Mr. Trump is also seemingly backtracking on his promise to bring Iran to its knees by imposing crippling economic sanctions.

Saudi distrust is fuelled by the fact that Mr. Trump first asked the kingdom to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran and then without informing it made a 180-degree turn by offering buyers generous waivers that keep Iranian crude in the market instead of drive exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero.

Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh, drew his pro-American definition of Saudi Arabia First from the crown prince’s focus on the United States. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh and other senior Saudi officials may be considering whether putting the kingdom’s eggs primarily in one basket remains the best strategy.

Whatever the case, Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sweep through regional and global sports has left Saudi leaders with little to leverage in the kingdom’s bid to pick up the pieces and improve its image tarnished first and foremost by Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but also by the trail the sports czar has left behind.

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Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East

Samantha Maloof

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Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.

The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.

Conspicuous by their absence

Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.

The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.

An “island” of stability

Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.

Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.

Delicate peace in Beirut

Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.

External actors have key roles to play

Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.

If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.

Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.

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The sanctions of a split

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The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.

The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors.  The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”

“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”

Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector,  – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.

Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.

This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.

Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program,  development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.

Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.

Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.  Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.

Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.

A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.

In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.

For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.

Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.

The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank).  Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.

According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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