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French led peace initiative: Arab League debates Israel-Palestine conflict

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When the international media outlets flashed the news about a French sponsored peace conference to find a credible solution to the Mideast crisis, denying the Palestinians a home of their own to improve their life conditions, world looked at the new development with a lot of hopes.

An international peace conference, sponsored by France, will take place in Paris on 3 June, a move that was welcomed by the Palestinians and opposed by the Israelis who fear if they let the besieged Palestinians make a fully independent state, it would lose the aid and all military support from USA and EU and it won’t be able to make false complaints about Palestinians. Earlier this year, the French government began efforts to host an international conference planned for this summer to restore peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli authorities. It also vowed to recognize a Palestinian state if peace talks failed.

However, in order to promote peace in the region, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have been invited to the first phase of the process, in which more than 20 ministers will gather in Paris to discuss ways to jump-start negotiations that have been frozen for more than two years.

Arab conclave

Recently the Arab nations converged in Cairo to discuss the new developments regarding establishment of Palestine state and the problems affecting peace development in Mideast.

Foreign ministers from the Arab League states met on May 28 in Cairo for a heated debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, as their preparation for the international conference to be held in Pairs this week. After the failure of USA to successfully and honestly mediate between Palestinians and Israeli regime, France has decided to mediate for a possible quick solution to the vexed and most complicated international problem, causing continued blood bath in Palestine due to Israeli terror attacks as its birth right. .

The 22 Arab League members were all present at the Cairo extraordinary meeting including representatives from Palestine and the Libya Unity Government. The Cairo meeting stressed the latest development between Israel and Palestine and deliberated on how the Arab countries could make contributions to reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the international conference in Pairs.

Arab ministries of foreign affairs are supporting the French initiative to revive the peace talks between Palestine and Israel and have urged for an established timeframe for the talks. Participants agreed that they would use the 2002 Arab peace initiative as the basis for negotiation and demand total pullout by Israel from all the Arab territories it has occupied since 1967. The participants also agreed on working with Israel and Palestine to accept the two-state solution for peaceful coexistence. According to the Palestinian envoy, Abbas updated Arab foreign ministers on the recent developments of the Palestinian issue and meet with the Arab League’s Secretary General Nabil Arabi.

The final statement of the Arab ministries’ urgent meeting put an emphasis on creating a multi-sided way to end the Israeli occupation and establish the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s arrival in Cairo closely follows a visit by an Israel Foreign Ministry delegation, which the ministry said was there for a routine meeting with their counterparts. Abbas said that Palestine will participate in the international peace conference if it aims to achieve the vision of the two states. Abbas added that the negotiation should have a known timeframe. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Araby said the aim is not to bring the two parties together but rather to identify a timeframe and techniques to impose what they will agree on.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an speculated that Israeli officials were in Cairo hoping to organize a tripartite meeting between PM Netanyahu, President Abbas and General Sisi ahead of the June 3 meeting in Paris. Its agenda having been failed, Israel has denied this report. Meanwhile, Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Israeli prime minister and a favorite for criticism and ridicule in local media, is now facing scrutiny by legal authorities after the police recommended indicting the first lady for her actions in three separate affairs relating to the running of the Prime Minister’s Residences. Each of the irregularities being investigated appears to have in common the spending of government funds for personal benefit by the Netanyahu family.

According to a Channel 10 report aired earlier this week, moderate Arab governments in the region have communicated to Netanyahu their willingness to engage in negotiations with Israel over possible changes to a 2002 Arab peace initiative so it may serve as the agreed-upon basis of renewed talks with the Palestinians.   Arab regimes led by Egypt and the wealthy Gulf sheikdoms have signaled their desire to publicly change their posture toward Israel. But, according to Channel 2, Sisi, who had called out equally to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, is strengthening his ties with Abbas now that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman who is known to be a hawkish anti-Palestine illegal settler leader has joined the government as defence minister.

Arrogance and ultra fanaticism

Clearly, fanatic and criminal minded Israel does not want an independent and soverign Palestine to emerge in West Asia and it obstructs it by all terror tactics, including bogus talk. Peace and prosperity is the last thing Israel wants in Palestine or in Mideast. Jewish strategists in Israel and USA think if Palestine is legally established leading to a peaceful and safe Mideast region, Israel won’t be able kill Palestinians as freely as they do now or expand its fake territories on false claims and western military strength. Also, the USA would drop Israel as a finished case. This may be untenable and unacceptable for the Jews.

English educated but highly fanatic Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the French initiative saying that the only way to progress is to conduct direct negotiations with Palestinians. Israel wants to impose its own laws and dictates on Palestinians and USA.

Egypt will participate in the Paris conference, said the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry. “We hope that the conference will revive the first steps in the negotiations track between Palestine and Israel,” Shoukry added. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said Monday that Egypt will support any initiative that asserts that rights of the Palestinian people. He also called on both sides to take advantage of this opportunity to achieve a peaceful solution.

Though it does not have any real intention of letting Palestinians establish a soverign nation, Israel falsely insists it alone can negotiate with Palestinians and no mediators are necessary. The Israeli side expressed earlier its concerns over the conference as Netanyahu told the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that Israel still opposes holding an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. “I told him the only way to advance genuine peace between us and Palestinians is through direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions,” said Netanyahu.

Unity deficit

The lack of unity among Fatah and Hamas is considered by many to be the most pressing problem facing the Palestinian people and the primary road block to statehood. After signing six reconciliation agreements but failing to implement any tangible evidence of rapprochement, Fatah and Hamas are trying it again with a new twist: international supervision. On June 30, the two factions will meet in Geneva as guests of the Swiss Foreign Ministry along with representatives from the Quartet (United States; United Nations, European Union and Russia), Sweden, Norway, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to find the formula for ending the bifurcation between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The key goals could be to unite Fatah and strengthen it against Hamas, weaken Hamas, complete a peace agreement with Israel and seize control of sovereign Palestinian institutions in the West Bank.

Of the failed agreements signed but not implemented, it is the Cairo Agreement of 2014 that will be the focus for implementation. Unlike the French initiative to reconcile the Israelis and Palestinians that is set to kick-off with a preliminary conference of foreign ministers in early June, the USA is not planning to attend in Geneva. The post Fatah, Hamas would try new reconciliation with international mediation.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan are reportedly planning to have former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Citing unnamed senior Palestinian and Jordanian sources, Middle East Eye reported Friday on the joint plan to bring Dahlan, the former leader of Abbas’ Fatah party in the Gaza Strip, back from exile in the Gulf. The plan was discussed with Israel, according to the article, which did not indicate Israel’s reaction.

Fatah leader Dahlan, a bitter rival of Abbas, was driven from Gaza after Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave in 2007. In 2011, he was expelled from Fatah amid allegations of corruption and accusations that he had poisoned longtime Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. Abbas, 81, has headed the Palestinian Authority since 2005. Dahlan who is 54 and headed the Palestinian police in Gaza in the immediate aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Accords, “has close ties to” the UAE’s royals, according to the Middle East Eye.

Sources say Hamas is weaker than Fatah in Gaza and that Fatah is weaker than Hamas in the West Bank and that Fatah could win if it were to be united whereas Hamas is likely to win if Fatah remained disunited. The parties -the UAE, Jordan and Egypt – believe that Mahmoud Abbas has expired politically and that they should endeavor to stop any surprises by Abbas during the period when Fatah will remain under his leadership until the elections are held. According to a report, Jordan has concerns about Dahlan, however, namely his reputation for being unpopular among Palestinians and allegations that he is corrupt and has ties to the Israeli security services.

Once Palestinians get united they would get a soverign state to plan for better future for the ir children and as such they would be busy making Palestine an Islamic democracy which would be free from corruption and liquor.

Observation

Israel has been systematically disallowing peace to take charge in West Asia; it arm-twister USA not to push beyond certain point as Americans are duty bound to shield the Zionist crimes by their own choice; Israel used USA to object to Russian proposal for peace talks; it attacked the aidship from Turkey seeking to make Gaza strip trouble free. Israel does not allow any foreign dignitary to visit Gaza Strip of Palestine. Israel collects taxes form Palestine and uses it as a powerful blackmail tool to force Palestinians to keep fighting amongst themselves, killing each other.

So, Israel opposes the involvement of a veto power France in the world’s longest conflict.

The Israeli side seems to be afraid of any international intervention that may dictate terms. Israel replied formally last month on the French initiative saying that anything other than bilateral negotiations “will give the Palestinians an escape from recognising Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people”.

Peace talks between Palestinians and an arrogant and Israel unwilling for any peaceful settlement stalled following the collapse of a US-led initiative two years ago as it wants to kill every Palestinians and throw the body into the sea as the Jewish hawkish leaders have declared time and again..

Colonialist Israel occupies Palestine and considers its prerogative to deal with people of Palestine, even their children the way the military wants, brutally treating the Palestinians by creating terror blockades blocking Gaza people to move freely within Palestine territories and, worse, to let them go out of Palestine even for urgent and important matters. Israeli military, backed by pentagon, regulates the movement of Palestinians. Yet Israel also calls itself a modern democracy. Perhaps, by democracy Israel means the illegal nukes it has obtained from the USA and allies. How can a terrorist, fascist nation be a democracy as well? Hopefully the France sponsored peace conference would yield fruits, pawing way for constructive dialog for speedy establishment of much delayed Palestine state. Other veto members should join France in pushing for a settlement of the dispute cum crisis in Mideast.

Let a new peaceful era dawn in Mideast with the establishment of Palestine that would in turn help establish global peace in a better manner. Let Israel be willing to make a soverign Palestine state possible by wholeheartedly supporting the Palestinians who has lost thousands of their brethren in bloody battles, defending themselves with a powerful enemy who is backed by veto and fellow nuke powers. . .

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Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message

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When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.

Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.

The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”

Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.

Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.

However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.

Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.

Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”

The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.

The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.

Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”

Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”

Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.

The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.

The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.

It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.

Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.

The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”

Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.

The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.

However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.

Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.

The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.

In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.

The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.

Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.

That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.

Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.

Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.

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Iran Gives Russia Two and a Half Cheers

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Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Moscow, March 15 2022. Credit: @Amirabdolahian via Twitter.

Iran’s rulers enthusiastically seek to destroy the liberal world order and therefore support Russia’s aggression. But they can’t manage full-throated support.

For Iran, the invasion of Ukraine is closely related to the very essence of the present world order. Much like Russia, Iran has been voicing its discontent at the way the international system has operated since the end of the Cold War. More broadly, Iran and Russia see the world through strikingly similar lenses. Both keenly anticipate the end of the multipolar world and the end of the West’s geopolitical preponderance.

Iran had its reasons to think this way. The US unipolar moment after 1991 provoked a deep fear of imminent encirclement, with American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq cited as evidence. Like Russia, the Islamic Republic views itself as a separate civilization that needs to be not only acknowledged by outside players, but also to be given ana suitable geopolitical space to project influence.

Both Russia and Iran are very clear about their respective spheres of influence. For Russia, it is the territories that once constituted the Soviet empire. For Iran, it is the contiguous states reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon — plus Yemen. When the two former imperial powers have overlapping strategic interests such as, for instance, in the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, they apply the concept of regionalism. This implies the blocking out of non-regional powers from exercising outsize economic and military influence, and mostly revolves around an order dominated by the powers which border on a region.

This largely explains why Iran sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity that, if successful, could hasten the end of the liberal world order. This is why it has largely toed the Russian line and explained what it describes as legitimate motives behind the invasion. Thus the expansion of NATO into eastern Europe was cited as having provoked Russian moves. “The root of the crisis in Ukraine is the US policies that create the crisis, and Ukraine is one victim of these policies,” argued Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei following the invasion.

To a certain degree, Iran’s approach to Ukraine has been also influenced by mishaps in bilateral relations which largely began with the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian surface-to-air missiles in January 2020, killing 176 people. The regime first denied responsibility, and later blamed human error.

Iran, like several other of Russia’s friends and defenders,  the ideal scenario would have been a quick war in which the Kremlin achieved its major goals.

Protracted war, however, sends a bad signal. It signals that the liberal order was not in such steep decline after all, and that Russia’s calls for a new era in international relations have been far from realistic. The unsuccessful war also shows Iran that the collective West still has very significant power and — despite well-aired differences — an ability to rapidly coalesce to defend the existing rules-based order. Worse, for these countries, the sanctions imposed on Russia go further; demonstrating the West’s ability to make significant economic sacrifices to make its anger felt. In other words, Russia’s failure in Ukraine actually strengthened the West and made it more united than at any point since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.

A reinvigorated liberal order is the last thing that Iran wants, given its own troubled relations with the collective West. The continuing negotiations on a revived nuclear deal will be heavily impacted by how Russia’s war proceeds, and how the US and EU continue to respond to the aggression. Iran fears that a defeated Russia might be so angered as to use its critical position to endanger the talks, vital to the lifting of the West’s crippling sanctions.

And despite rhetorical support for Russia, Iran has been careful not to overestimate Russia’s power. It is now far from clear that the Kremlin has achieved its long-term goal of “safeguarding” its western frontier. Indeed, the Putin regime may have done the opposite now that it has driven Finland and Sweden into the NATO fold. Western sanctions on Russia are likely to remain for a long time, threatening long-term Russian economic (and possible regime) stability.

Moreover, Russia’s fostering of separatist entities (following the recognition of the so called Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” and other breakaway entities in Georgia and Moldova) is a highly polarizing subject in Iran. True there has been a shift toward embracing Russia’s position over Ukraine, but Iran remains deeply committed to the “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the affairs of other states and territorial integrity. This is hardly surprising given its own struggles against potential separatism in the peripheries of the country.

Many Iranians also sympathize with Ukraine’s plight, which for some evokes Iran’s defeats in the early 19th century wars when Qajars had to cede the eastern part of the South Caucasus to Russia. This forms part of a historically deeply rooted, anti-imperialist sentiment in Iran.

Iran is therefore likely to largely abstain from endorsing Russia’s separatist ambitions in Eastern Ukraine. It will also eschew, where possible, support for Russia in international forums. Emblematic of this policy was the March 2 meeting in the United Nations General Assembly when Iran, rather than siding with Russia, abstained from the vote which condemned the invasion.

Russia’s poor military performance, and the West’s ability to act unanimously, serve as a warning for the Islamic Republic that it may one day have to soak up even more Western pressure if Europe, the US, and other democracies act in union.

In the meantime, like China, Iran will hope to benefit from the magnetic pull of the Ukraine war. With so much governmental, military and diplomatic attention demanded by the conflict, it will for the time being serve as a distraction from Iran’s ambitions elsewhere. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Ignoring the Middle East at one’s peril: Turkey plays games in NATO

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Image source: NATO

Amid speculation about a reduced US military commitment to security in the Middle East, Turkey has spotlighted the region’s ability to act as a disruptive force if its interests are neglected.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off alarm bells this week, declaring that he was not “positive” about possible Finnish and Swedish applications for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO membership is contingent on a unanimous vote in favour by the organisation’s 30 members. Turkey has NATO’s second-largest standing army. 

The vast majority of NATO members appear to endorse Finnish and Swedish membership. NATO members hope to approve the applications at a summit next month.

A potential Turkish veto would complicate efforts to maintain trans-Atlantic unity in the face of the Russian invasion.

Mr. Erdogan’s pressure tactics mirror the maneuvers of his fellow strongman, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban. Mr. Orban threatens European Union unity by resisting a bloc-wide boycott of Russian energy.

Earlier, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia rejected US requests to raise oil production in an effort to lower prices and help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

The two Gulf states appear to have since sought to quietly backtrack on their refusal.

In late April, France’s TotalEnergies chartered a tanker to load Abu Dhabi crude in early May for Europe, the first such shipment in two years.

Saudi Arabia has quietly used its regional pricing mechanisms to redirect from Asia to Europe Arab “medium,” the Saudi crude that is the closest substitute for the main Russian export blend, Urals, for which European refineries are configured.

Mr. Erdogan linked his NATO objection to alleged Finnish and Swedish support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States, and the EU.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeast Turkey in support of Kurds’ national, ethnic, and cultural rights. Kurds account for up to 20 per cent of the country’s 84 million population.

Turkey has recently pounded PKK positions in northern Iraq in a military operation named Operation Claw Lock

Turkey is at odds with the United States over American support for Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey asserts that America’s Syrian Kurdish allies are aligned with the PKK.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey opposes a US decision this week to exempt from sanctions against Syria regions controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“This is a selective and discriminatory move,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that the exemption did not include Kurdish areas of Syria controlled by Turkey and its Syrian proxies.

Referring to the NATO membership applications, Mr. Erdogan charged that “Scandinavian countries are like some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations. They’re even in parliament.”

Mr. Erdogan’s objections relate primarily to Sweden, with Finland risking becoming collateral damage.

Sweden is home to a significant Kurdish community and hosts Europe’s top Kurdish soccer team that empathises with the PKK and Turkish Kurdish aspirations. In addition, six Swedish members of parliament are ethnic Kurds.

Turkey scholar Howard Eissenstat suggested that Turkey’s NATO objection may be a turning point. “Much of Turkey’s strategic flexibility has come from the fact that its priorities are seen as peripheral issues for its most important Western allies. Finnish and Swedish entry into NATO, in the current context, absolutely not peripheral,” Mr. Eissenstat tweeted.

The Turkish objection demonstrates the Middle East’s potential to derail US and European policy in other parts of the world.

Middle Eastern states walk a fine line when using their potential to disrupt to achieve political goals of their own. The cautious backtracking on Ukraine-related oil supplies demonstrates the limits and/or risks of Middle Eastern brinkmanship.

So does the fact that Ukraine has moved NATO’s center of gravity to northern Europe and away from its southern flank, which Turkey anchors.

Moreover, Turkey risks endangering significant improvements in its long-strained relations with the United States.

Turkish mediation in the Ukraine crisis and military support for Ukraine prompted US President Joe Biden to move ahead with plans to upgrade Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter planes and discuss selling it newer, advanced  F-16 models even though Turkey has neither condemned Russia nor imposed sanctions.

Some analysts suggest Turkey may use its objection to regain access to the United States’ F-35 fighter jet program. The US cancelled in 2019 a sale of the jet to Turkey after the NATO member acquired Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defence system.

Mr. Erdogan has “done this kind of tactic before. He will use it as leverage to get a good deal for Turkey,” said retired US Navy Admiral James Foggo, dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy.

A top aide to Mr. Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, appeared to confirm Mr. Foggo’s analysis.

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Mr. Kalin said, referring to the Turkish leader’s NATO remarks. “Of course, we want to have a discussion, a negotiation with Swedish counterparts.”

Spelling out Turkish demands, Mr. Kalin went on to say that “what needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to…exist in those countries.”

Mr. Erdogan’s brinkmanship may have its limits, but it illustrates that one ignores the Middle East at one’s peril.

However, engaging Middle Eastern autocrats does not necessarily mean ignoring their rampant violations of human rights and repression of freedoms.

For the United States and Europe, the trick will be developing a policy that balances accommodating autocrats’, at times, disruptive demands, often aimed at ensuring regime survival, with the need to remain loyal to democratic values amid a struggle over whose values will underwrite a 21st-century world order.

However, that would require a degree of creative policymaking and diplomacy that seems to be a rare commodity.

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