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 , 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…”
Who are the real betrayers of Egypt, Critics or Sycophants?
“You are betraying your country by exposing its defects!” is a common accusation made by the sycophants to the ruling regime in Egypt who have managed to well situated themselves in our society simply by blindly praising the ruler’s policies. Apparently, these sycophants place a higher value on the privileges that they have gained to living in a truly advanced nation. In fact, the real betrayers of any given authoritarian nation are those who justify this immoral ruling mechanism for their own personal gain.
Despotism is the evilest ruling mechanism ever devised; apart from its cruelty and unfairness, it works on inflating the ruler’s ego by mirroring his thoughts that are always passionately endorsed by his flatterers, regardless of their merits! Meanwhile, the ruler’s manipulation of the entire political sphere impairs the state’s ability to detect and correct its blunders. Concurrently, the harsh and inhuman treatment of the state’s critics, which includes threats to their personal lives, results in spreading fear throughout the entire society.
A successful strategy for running a country ruled by a tyrannical government is to enable ignorant citizens to dominate the state media exclusively, thus empowering them to express their opinions on a much wider scale than knowledgeable citizens. This approach consequently creates significant friction between knowledgeable and ignorant citizens, resulting in the polarization of the entire nation. The state methodically fuels this process by labeling the mediocre as loyal citizens and accusing its critics of treason.
The privileging of sycophants financially, along with advancing their power and upscaling their status, have prompted many Egyptians to join this beneficial club, which prerequisites praising superiors and justifying their faults, thus compensating for the natural dullness and incompetence of the flatterers. Meanwhile, the state’s critics who demand freedom and stand by their values are aware that they are engaged in a long-lasting battle and are risking their lives for generations to come!
In fact, sycophants are the weakest link in the state’s ruling dynamics. They hypocritically heap intense praise on the security apparatus who sacrifice their lives to defend our nation – but do their utmost to ensure that their youngsters abandon their military duty; just one facet of their deceitful conduct. Sycophantic behavior and false testimony are the most sinful acts in Islam; yet they have become, ironically, a habitual pattern of behavior in our social norms.
That Egypt needs to be ruled by an Iron-fist is a common argument put forth by the flatterers. It is translated into applying harsh measures to critics and laxity toward lawbreakers – a proposition that reflects the low moral values espoused by flatterers to secure their status. The policy of maximum repression adopted by the current ruling regime might be successful in controlling society; however, it has certainly contributed to an escalation of terrorism activities by political Islamists against the military apparatus.
In my former party, the Egyptian Democratic Front, a few executive party members used to instantly report our internal discussions to the State Security apparatus. In addition totheir immoral conduct and betrayal of their peers, they used to enhance their ratting out by exacerbating our opposing political stands. I argued, at that time, for either offering those ratters a crash course on “minutes-taking” or inviting the State Security apparatus to participate in our meetings to better learn about our viewpoints.
“Cairo is a dirty city” – a painful remark that I occasionally hear from international visitors to our capital. The Egyptian State will never be able to manipulate the perception of millions of diversified tourists who visit Cairo yearly, but we can easily work to bring order to our city and live in a hygienic place. The same applies to other qualities of life such as freedom, dignity and justice; we need to highlight deficiencies in these areas to be able to advance our nation.
President Al Sisi has a clear desire to be a remarkable leader; he believes that expanding our roads and building new flyovers will make Egypt an advanced nation and that these developments will be credited to his legacy. The president is unaware that the future of our country will be written and judged by the youths of today, who are extremely angry with him due to his policy of demolishing humanity and freedom, compounded by his inability to create decent jobs for youngsters.
Egypt is currently confronting a number of complex internal and external challenges, including an economic slowdown, a civil war on our eastern borders, a potential water shortage due to the filling of Ethiopian GRED and rising unemployment. All of these challenges, and many more, will simply be intensified by our deep polarization, further weakening the state. The sycophants’ deliberate misleading of Egypt concerning these challenges is dragging our nation downward, transforming us into a fragile state.
Advancing an old-fashioned country like Egypt requires honest citizens who have bold ideas and enough courage to implement their ideas. These qualities are found more among knowledgeable citizens and critics of the state who are already sacrificing for their country; large numbers of them are spending their best years in prison simply for having voiced their opinions. Modernizing Egypt will require our president to unite our nation, appointing well-educated citizens to key positions and completely discarding state sycophants.
Israel-China Relations: Staring Into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling
Israel knew the drill even before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boarded his flight to Tel Aviv earlier this month four days after the death of his father. It was Mr. Pompeo’s first and only overseas trip since March.
Echoing a US warning two decades ago that Israeli dealings with China jeopardized the country’s relationship with the United States, Mr. Pompeo’s trip solidified Israel’s position at the cusp of the widening US-Chinese divide.
Two decades ago the issue was the potential sale to China of Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Israel backed out of the deal after the US threatened withdrawal of American support for the Jewish state.
This month the immediate issue was a Chinese bid for construction of the world’s largest desalination plant and on the horizon a larger US-Chinese battle for a dominating presence in Eastern Mediterranean ports.
Within days of his visit, Mr. Pompeo scored a China-related success even if the main focus of his talks with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was believed to be Iran and Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Israel signalled that it had heard the secretary’s message by awarding the contract for the Sorek-2 desalination plant to an Israeli rather than a Chinese company.
The tender, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
China’s interest in Israel is strategic given the fact that the Jewish state is one of the world’s foremost commercial, food and security technology powerhouses and one of the few foreign countries to command significant grassroots support in the United States.
If there is one thing Israel cannot afford, it is a rupture in its bonds to the United States. That is no truer than at a time in which the United States is the only power supportive of Israeli annexation plans on the West Bank.
The question is whether Israel can develop a formula that convinces the United States that US interests will delineate Israeli dealings with China and reassure China that it can still benefit from Israeli assets within those boundaries.
“Right now, without taking the right steps, we are looking at being put in the situation in which the US is telling us we need to cut or limit our relations with China. The problem is that Israel wants freedom of relations with China but is not showing it really understands US concerns. Sorek-2 was a good result. It shows the Americans we get it.” said Carice Witte, executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) that seeks to advance Israeli-Chinese relations.
Analysts, including Ms. Witte, believe that there is a silver lining in Israel’s refusal to award the desalination plant to a Chinese company that would allow it to steer a middle course between the United States and China.
“China understands that by giving the Americans this win, China-Israel relations can continue. It gives them breathing room,” Ms. Witte said in an interview.
It will, however, be up to Israel to develop criteria and policies that accommodate the United States and make clear to China what Israel can and cannot do.
“In order for Israel to have what it wants… it’s going to need to show the Americans that it takes Washington’s strategic perceptions into consideration and not only that, that it’s two steps ahead on strategic thinking with respect to China. The question is how.” Ms. Witte said.
Ports and technology are likely to be focal points.
China is set to next year takeover the management of Haifa port where it has already built its own pier and is constructing a new port in Ashdod.
One way of attempting to address US concerns would be to include technology companies in the purview of a still relatively toothless board created under US pressure in the wake of the Haifa deal to review foreign investment in Israel. It would build in a safeguard against giving China access to dual civilian-military use technology.
That, however, may not be enough to shield Israel against increased US pressure to reduce Chinese involvement in Israeli ports.
“The parallels between the desalination plant and the port are just too close to ignore. We can’t have another infrastructure divide,” Ms. Witte said.
The two Israeli ports will add to what is becoming a Chinese string of pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean.
China already manages the Greek port of Piraeus.
China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) is looking at upgrading Lebanon’s deep seaport of Tripoli to allow it to accommodate larger vessels.
Qingdao Haixi Heavy-Duty Machinery Co. has sold Tripoli port two 28-storey container cranes capable of lifting and transporting more than 700 containers a day, while a container vessel belonging to Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO docked in Tripoli in December 2018, inaugurating a new maritime route between China and the Mediterranean.
Major Chinese construction companies are also looking at building a railroad that would connect Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to Homs and Aleppo in Syria. China has further suggested that Tripoli could become a special economic zone within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and serve as an important trans-shipment point between the People’s Republic and Europe.
BRI is a massive infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven effort to connect the Eurasian landmass to China.
Potential Chinese involvement in reconstruction of post-war Syria would likely give it access to the ports of Latakia and Tartous.
Taken together, China is looking at dominating the Eastern Mediterranean with six ports in four countries, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and Syria that would create an alternative to the Suez Canal.
All that is missing are Turkish, Cypriot and Egyptian ports.
The Chinese build- up threatens to complicate US and NATO’s ability to manoeuvre in the region.
The Trump administration has already warned Israel that Chinese involvement in Haifa could jeopardize continued use of the port by the US fifth fleet.
“The writing is on the wall. Israel needs to carve out a degree of wiggle room. That however will only come at a price. There is little doubt that Haifa will move into the firing line,” said a long-time observer of Israeli-Chinese relations.
Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for Gulf states has done far more than play havoc with their revenue base and fiscal household. It has propelled massive structural change to the top of their agenda in ways that economic diversification plans had not accounted for.
Leave aside whether Gulf states can continue to focus on high-profile, attention-grabbing projects like Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion USD 21st century futuristic city on the Red Sea.
Gulf rulers’ to do list, if they want to get things right, is long and expensive without the burden of trophy projects. It involves economic as well as social and ultimately political change.
Transparency and accurate and detailed public reporting go to the core of these changes.
They also are key to decisions by investors, economists, and credit rating companies at a time when Gulf states’ economic outlook is in question. Many complain that delays in GDP reporting and lack of easy access to statistics complicates their decision-making.
Nonetheless, if there is one thing autocratic Gulf governments have going for themselves, beyond substantial financial reserves, it is public confidence in the way they handled the pandemic, despite the fact that they failed to initially recognize crowded living circumstances of migrant workers as a super spreader.
Most governments acted early and decisively with lockdowns and curfews, testing, border closures, repatriation of nationals abroad, and, in Saudi Arabia, suspension of pilgrimages.
To be sure, Gulf countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia that receives millions of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe each year, have a long-standing history of dealing with epidemics. Like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, they were better prepared than Western nations.
History persuaded the kingdom to ban the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in late February, days before the first case of a Covid-19 infection emerged on Saudi soil.
Beyond public health concerns, Saudi Arabia had an additional reason to get the pandemic right. It offered the kingdom not only an opportunity to globally polish its image, badly tarnished by human rights abuses, power grabs, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also to retain religious influence despite the interruption in the flow of pilgrims to the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is still a reference for many Muslim communities around the world,” said Yasmine Farouk, a scholar of Saudi Arabia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It also allowed Saudi Arabia to set the record straight following criticism of its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 when the kingdom became the epidemic’s epicenter and in 2009 when it was hit by the H1N1 virus.
Saudi Arabia is also blamed for contributing to a public health catastrophe in Yemen with its frequent indiscriminate bombings.
A country in ruins as a result of the military intervention, Yemen has grappled for the past four years with a cholera epidemic on the kingdom’s borders.
Trust in Gulf states’ handling of the current pandemic was bolstered by degrees of transparency on the development of the disease in daily updates in the number of casualties and fatalities.
It was further boosted by a speech by King Salman as soon as the pandemic hit the kingdom in which he announced a raft of measures to counter the disease and support the economy as well as assurances by agriculture minister Abdulrahman al-Fadli that the crisis would not affect food supplies.
Ms. Farouk suggested that government instructions during the pandemic were followed because of “trust in the government, the expertise and the experience of the government [and] trust in the religious establishment, which actually was following the technical decisions of the government.”
To be sure, Ms. Farouk acknowledged, the regime’s coercive nature gave the public little choice.
The limits of government transparency were evident in the fact that authorities were less forthcoming with details of public spending on the pandemic and insight into available medical equipment like ventilators and other supplies such as testing kits.
Some Gulf states have started publishing the daily and total number of swabs but have yet to clarify whether these figures include multiple swabbings of the same person.
“It is likely that publics in the Middle East will look back at who was it that gave them reliable information, who was it who was there for them,” said political scientist Nathan Brown.
The question is whether governments will conclude that transparency will be needed to maintain public confidence as they are forced to rewrite social contracts that were rooted in concepts of a cradle-to-grave welfare state but will have to involve greater burden sharing.
Gulf governments have so far said little about burden sharing being allocated equitably across social classes nor has there been transparency on what drives investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds in a time of crisis and changing economic outlook.
Speaking to the Financial Times, a Gulf banker warned that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “needs to be careful what he spends on . . . Joe Public will be watching.”
Headed by Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has gone on a $7.7 billion USD shopping spree buying stakes in major Western blue chips, including four oil majors: Boeing, Citigroup, Disney, and Facebook. The Public Investment Fund is also funding a bid for English soccer club Newcastle United.
The banker suggested that Saudi nationals would not appreciate “millionaire footballer salaries being paid for by VAT (value added tax) on groceries.” He was referring to this month’s hiking of sales taxes in the kingdom from five to 15 percent.
The fragility and fickleness of public trust was on display for the world to see in Britain’s uproar about Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who violated lockdown instructions for personal reasons. Mr. Johnson is struggling to fight off demands for Mr Cummings’ dismissal.
To be sure, senior government officials and business executives in the Gulf have cautioned of hard times to come.
A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey of CEOs predicted that 70 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ companies would go out of business in the next six months, including half of its restaurants and hotels and three-quarters of its travel and tourism companies.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan warned earlier this month that the kingdom would need to take “painful” measures and look for deep spending cuts as a result of the collapse of oil prices and significantly reduced demand for oil.
Aware of sensitivities, Mr. Al-Jadaan stressed that “as long as we do not touch the basic needs of the people, all options are open.”
There was little transparency in Mr. Al-Jadaan’s statements on what the impact would be on employment-seeking Saudi nationals in a labor market where fewer migrant workers would be available for jobs that Saudis have long been unwilling to accept.
It was a missed opportunity considering the 286 percent increase in the number of Saudis flocking to work for delivery services.
The increase was fueled by an offer by Hadaf, the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, to pay drivers $800 USD a month, as well as a newly-found embrace of volunteerism across the Gulf.
The surge offered authorities building blocks to frame expectations at a time when the kingdom’s official unemployment rate of 12 percent is likely to rise.
It suggested a public acknowledgement of the fact that well-paying, cushy government positions may no longer be as available as they were in the past as well as the fact that lesser jobs are no less honorable forms of employment.
That may be the silver lining as Gulf states feel the pressure to reinvent themselves in a world emerging from a pandemic that potentially will redraw social, economic, and political maps.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
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