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The Origin and Essence of “Palestine” and “Palestinians” as political entities (B)

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The Palestinian national movement has become the hostile stepsister, mainly the slayer of the Zionist national movement, and it remained until today absolutist in its goals, the destruction of Israel as a state and as a nation. Every people are created in a long historical process. The issue is not whether there is a Palestinian people, but the question should be asked is: What are the goals of the Palestinians? What is the terrain of their aspirations? How and where do they define their state? What are the borders of their state?

The Palestinian national movement claims, in Article 3 of the Palestinian Charter: “The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is completed, it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice.”

This means that their national existence is lacking as long as the State of Israel exists. Palestinian national existence can arise only on the ruins of the State of Israel, and not alongside it. This is the immediate meaning of Article 3. It is necessary to focus on these issues, and not on the sterile dispute about the Palestinian national entity, its existence or nature. There is a Palestinian people, because there is a national group that defines itself as such. But the Palestinians have not changed their ways of thinking or their operational ways, and they still aspire to set up “Greater Palestine” on the wreckage of the State of Israel.

Nevertheless, there is a large problem in objectively and scientifically defining “Who is a Palestinian,” just as there is a difficulty in defining “Who is an Arab,” and just as there is a dispute over the question of “Who is a Jew.” The concept Arab has changed and developed over the years, but there never was an agreed, accepted definition of it. Ibn Khaldun, the Arab historian, claimed that the Arabs were only wandering Bedouin. This was also the meaning of the term until the 18th century in the Middle East. Arab leaders have tried to determine a definition of an “Arab” in accordance with several distinct criteria: he who lives on Arab soil, speaks the Arabic language, his mother tongue being Arabic, was born into Arab culture, and is proud of the splendid Arab past.

Others spoke of Arab culture and loyalty as a national feeling, while yet others argued for belonging to the Arab nation and living the Arab life style. The common elements are language, which is a cultural component; a common history that expresses the Arab past; regional and cultural unity; and vehement resistance to Zionism and international imperialism. However, are these enough? They possess great importance, but they are still very problematic. We still have remained in a situation where the concept is amorphous and a matter of emotions, and not necessarily of the conscious intellect.

Who, then, are the Palestinians? In particular, what is their national goal and how do they seek to achieve it? According to the Palestinian national covenant, in Article 5: “The Palestinians are the Arab nationals who were living permanently in Palestine until 1947, whether they were expelled from there or remained…”

What do they intend by referring to the year 1947? Does this merely refer to the Partition Plan, UN General Assembly resolution 181? We have to refer to Articles 19 and 20 that reject the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate document, and everything deriving from them. Now we understand: the so-called Palestinians are demanding “Greater Palestine”, which historically lay on both sides of the Jordan River.

Here is the strong link between defining national identity and defining the problem. There are many Palestinian groups within various political-juridical frameworks, and therefore the definition of Who-is-a-Palestinian does not derive from one’s national or geographic origin. Rather, from their political point of view, being Palestinian means supporting a total national-ideological program.

The name Palestine, which refers to the territory of the Land of Israel, and the name Palestinian which refers to the Arab people, crystallized with the establishment of the State of Israel and creation of an Israeli political identity. Only then did the Palestinian politicians notice the importance of the name, and turned “Palestine” into an operative idea, a territorial entity existing since ancient times. The connection between the name and the people is new and artificial to that same extent. However, the link between the origin of the Palestinian people – a mixed multitude of groups from the region, which had recently arrived – and the historical peoples of the Land of Israel, is not only artificial, deceitful and fraudulent, but ridiculous, pathetic and lunatic.

The Palestinian problem is, above all, a political problem with political meanings. The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable, and it proceeds on gross errors and lies.

It is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land; after all, most Palestinians have lived to this day in historic mandatory Palestine, whether in the boundaries defined in 1922, on both sides of the Jordan, or in the limited definition of the Western territory.

To claim that the Palestinians were displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and justice. The Balfour declaration of 1917, being part of the Mandate given to Britain to fulfill, granted the whole territory of “Greater Palestine,” including East Jordan to the Jewish people, and it was recognized by the 1919 Paris Peace Settlement after WWI and the League of Nations as was legitimized in the Mandatory system. It was also legitimized by the UN resolutions.

To assert that Israel has taken territory in 1948 owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false, since the Jewish settlements were on empty places and partly bought in full money from local inhabitants. Israel did not took areas belonging to the Palestinians in the 1967 war. This is a big atrocious lie. Between 1948 and 1967, the so called Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. They were not mentioned even by Arab states as political problem and as a nation deserve of a territory. All Arab leaders clearly differentiated between “the solution of Palestine issue” (Hall Qadiyat Filastin) and the resolution of the Arab refugees (Qadiyat al-Lija’ al-Arab).

Indeed this differentiation is clearly revealed on the international arena. Even as late as November 1967, the UN Security Council Resolution 242 mentions ‘the refugee problem’ and not a ‘Palestinian people’. The fact is that a Palestinian entity grew as a political movement precisely because of the Arab states defeat in 1967 war. Only from that time on, the world began to hear of a “Palestinian People.”

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a minority of them is living in camps, and examination of the socioeconomic data shows clearly that their situation resembles in its nature the problems of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries – and in many cases their situation is much better.

The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was uprooted from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians are living in an Arabic speaking society, in Arabic culture, and under Arab regimes. They live under Arab regimes, mainly Jordan and Lebanon, and they are antagonistic to these states; in the western territory of the Land of Israel they live as independent entities under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza; and they live as a minority in Israel.

Most of the population of Jordan are Palestinians and most Palestinians have or had Jordanian identity. In this sense, the situation of the Palestinians does not at all resemble the situation of the Jews in the Diaspora before they had a state. The true political situation is absolutely different from Palestinian propaganda, where its aims to be achieved through national struggle by prolonged inhuman terrorism and at the same time political demands of humanitarian base: the refugees’ Right of Return.

The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice to the Palestinian nation is totally unacceptable historically, politically and ideologically. It proceeds on gross errors and big lies.

To claim that the Palestinian nation was displaced by Israel, when no such entity existed at that time, is playing with the facts of history and human logic.

To assert that Israel has taken territory owned by the Palestinians and known to be theirs is totally false that has never suited the history and reality.

To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a big lie. The West bank was conquered by Jordan in 1948, and its population annexed to Jordan and agreed to have a Jordanian citizenship; and the Gaza strip was conquered by Egypt, which retained their mandatory identity. From 1948 to 1967, this population has never raised its voice being a Palestinian people and demanding political aims and independence. It was only after 1967, when Israel has liberated these territories, which were promised by the Mandate that we heard of a “Palestinian people.

Indeed, the Palestinian entity grew as a political movement because of the Israeli defeat of the Arab states in 1967 war, taking territories from Jordan and Egypt, whose control was never legitimized even by other Arab states, let alone the international community. Until then, the Palestinians were considered and treated only as Arab refugees. Further, UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 mentions “the refugee problem” and not a “Palestinian people”.

The question still remains: what do the Palestinians want? What are their goals? What and where is the Palestine that they speak of? How and where do they perceive the State of Israel existing and on which borders? Where was the “Palestinian people” in those years? Where they even raised their voice for political aims? Above all, what kind of justice do the Palestinians want? Where do they wish to implement their justice? And what are the borders of their Palestine?

From the viewpoint of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestine has a normative validity. It proposes total solutions to an imagined reality, and it is determined to view Palestine as an indivisible unit. Thus, their very definition of Palestine implies the necessity of liquidating Israel. Many of the articles in the Palestinian National Charter (al-Mithaq al-Watani al-Filastini) explicitly emphasize liberation of the entire territory of Palestine by violence and armed struggle. The same thrust is found in the resolutions of meetings of the Palestinian National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani al-Filastini) held over the years.

Article 1 of the Palestinian National Charter states: “Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people and an integral part of the great Arab homeland, and the people of Palestine is a part of the Arab nation.” This reveals the central trend in Palestinian policy from the beginning, the absolute demand for the whole territory of what they call Palestine, without sharing any part of it with others or dividing it. Therefore, self-determination would come only after the complete liberation of Palestine, as clearly stated in Article 3 of the Charter.

It is election season in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians are preparing for local and municipal elections in the Palestinian Authority held territory, on October 8. In 2012 elections Hamas boycotted the vote, allowing Fatah to claim victory. This time Hamas has decided to participate, a move that caught the Palestinian Authority by surprise. Hamas’s has started a frightening platform, when one of its top muftis, Yunis al-Astal, issued a Fatwah banning Palestinians from voting for any other party other than Hamas, otherwise he will be considered an infidel and apostate.

Significantly, official Fatah Facebook page on August 2, 2016, boasts about leading Palestinians in terror. Fatah did not cite even one peace-seeking or peace-promoting achievement, but only acts of violence and terror. Fatah has killed 11,000 Israelis; Fatah has sacrificed 170,000 Shuhada’; Fatah was the first to carry out operations of terror attacks, and it was the first to reach the nuclear reactor in Dimona; Fatah was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy; Fatah led the Palestinian attack on Israel in the UN.

The 1988 Hamas charter (“Islamic Resistance Movement”) is genocidal. Its slogan and model are: “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its charter, Jihad its path, and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief” (Article 8). Yet the United Nations has never denounced it, and most of Western countries do not label Hamas as terrorist organization. Hamas is against any peace process: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. All initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are a waste of time and vain endeavors” (Article 13).

Hamas is committed to continuing Jihad against “the Jews” until the Day of Judgment. The land of Palestine, it affirms, must be cleansed from their impurity and viciousness. Muslims are obligated by order of the Prophet to fight and kill the Jews wherever they find them. This call to genocide is justified by a Hadith which concludes article 7 of the charter: The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to implement Allah’s promise, whatever time that may take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until the Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them), until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim, Oh Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come on and kill him.”  

For Hamas it is clear: there is only one political system and one rule: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out” (Article 6).

“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a humanistic movement. It takes care of human rights and is guided by Islamic tolerance when dealing with the followers of other religions. It does not antagonize anyone of them except if others antagonize it or stands in its way to hamper its moves. Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that” (Article 31).

Hyowever, historically The phrase “Palestinian Arab people” implies that there were a Palestinian people in the past and that it had acted as a political collectivity. Of course, there never was such a collectivity. The Arabs living in geographical Palestine were called inhabitants of “Southern Syria” (Suriya al-Janubiyyah) and they considered themselves as Muslims first, then as Arabs, and then, by ascriptive affiliation, as natives of a town or village and/or as part of a tribe and extended family (Hamulah).

During the Mandatory period, a “Palestinian” meant a person who bore a Palestinian identity card issued by the British Mandatory authorities. After the rise of the State of Israel, the term “Palestinians” developed into a national definition of the Arabs connected with the country, comprising a self-conscious collectivity. But only after the 1967 war did the Palestinian national movement emerges politically in the Middle Eastern and international arenas.

Article 4 of the Palestinian National Charter asserts: The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic; it is transmitted from parents to children. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal of the Palestinian Arab people. do not make them lose their Palestinian identity, and their membership of the Palestinian community, nor do they negate them.

It is very important to note that the Palestinian leadership has emphasized time and again that even those Palestinians who have acquired foreign citizenship shall remain Palestinians with full rights to their homeland, no matter where they live nor how much time has elapsed. This means that being a Palestinian is independent of citizenship or formal nationality.

From the beginning, members of the Palestinian National Council and the National Executive Committee have mostly been delegates of the organizations comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization, as a political umbrella, while other members have been independents. Indeed, the legitimacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization was superimposed on the Palestinians. For this reason, Article 8 of the Charter tries to settle the issue of legitimacy and to achieve internal unity. This is why the Palestine Liberation Organization declares itself the representative of the revolutionary forces (Article 26).

Now the last question arises. Where is Palestine? What are its boundaries? Article 2 of the Charter clarifies this matter: Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

On these grounds, the Palestinians are not only making a claim to Western Palestine, but also to eastern Palestine, that is, the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Various resolutions of the Palestinian National Council affirm this outright. Indeed, the Palestinian national movement, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, frankly shows that it is far from accepting any territorial compromise.

Declarations suggesting willingness to compromise are only on the tactical level, and even the partial agreements that they are willing to sign are typified by a policy of take and take, most assuredly not one of give and take. This new strategy began in 1974 at the twelfth session of the Palestinian National Council. It was reinforced through the years. What motivates the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leaders is a policy of illusion and deception as embodied in the Staged Strategy, from 1974.

This reality presents several factual aspects. The fact is this conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has attract the attention of the international community for decades, and many hundreds of attempts to achieve political compromises and arrangements have been made and are still in process. They all were rejected.

The fact is that even the most moderate among the Jews, the members of Brit-Shalom, in the 1930s, who were ready for far-reaching concessions, even rejecting Zionism and Jewish statehood, did not succeed in achieving a basis for common understanding with the local Arab leadership.

The fact is that during the period of the British mandate, the local Arab leadership was not ready for any compromise as to Jewish immigration, as to Jewish settlement on the land, or as to the various partition plans that were proposed.

The fact is that the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947 was totally rejected by the local Arab leadership with the encouragement of the Arab states; and on the morrow of the UN vote, they began an organized war against the Jewish population.

The fact is that when the Jewish leadership decided to establish the State of Israel on the basis of the UN Partition Plan, war was proclaimed by the Arab states, with the encouragement of the local Arabs, in order to prevent establishment of the Jewish State.

The fact is that after the failure of the Arab states in the war, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, but they have appropriated the Palestine issue to themselves, and until 1967, the Palestinian issue was known only as a humanitarian problem of refugees.

The fact is that UN General Assembly Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to the conciliation regime with the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the “refugee problem” at all, and if this means Palestinians, it no less means the Jewish refugees from Arab states.

The fact is that from 1948 on, the Palestinians had no connection with regional political reality in general. They were not an active political player, they did not have any territorial assets, and their problem was defined as humanitarian one.

The fact is that even Resolution 242 of November 1967, deals with the issue under the rubric of the refugee problem, not with that of a Palestinian people, not with a political problem referring to an exploited disinherited people.

The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily and politically liberated areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Arab states – Jordan, which had annexed the West Bank in April 1950, making it part of Jordanian territory, and Egypt which continued to view the inhabitants of Gaza as being subjects of the Mandate.

The fact is that the so-called Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, ever in the far and recent history of the region, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war and its chief goal to this day has not been to obtain a territory for the Palestinians and to live at peace with Israel. Rather, it has been to liquidate the State of Israel through indiscriminate terrorism, an inhuman incitement, and to take possession of the territory in its entirety.

The fact is that the Palestinians were not sovereign over any territory, and the State of Israel never conquered any territory from them. The Palestinian national movement, in contrast to Palestinian identity, was shaped and organized only after the 1967 war, and its chief goal to this day has been to take possession of Palestine in its entirety through indiscriminate terrorism and to control the territory of “Greater Palestine,” including Jordan, by totally demolishing the State of Israel.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement is a terrorist movement armed from head to toe throughout its history. It has operated violent, indiscriminate terrorism not only against Jews and Israel from the beginning of Jewish settlement in 1882, but also against the Palestinians themselves, and even against Arab states, directly in Jordan and Lebanon, since the late 1960s on.

The fact is that the Palestinian national movement acts by pressures of threats of terrorism to undermine the stability of regimes and the regional order, for the purpose of financial blackmail and getting “protection money” from the oil states. These were operated in order to advance its national goals on the account of the vital interests of the Arab states and the Arab masses. It brought turmoil to the Jordanian and Lebanese political system, and in Lebanon it brought about the military intervention of Syria in June 1976, and Israel in June 1982.

Some lessons have to be understood. The so-called Palestinian issue on the international arena is not the “occupation” and it has never been. It is not the “1967 occupation” but the “1948 occupation.” It is all about total hatred and absolute rejection of any Jewish nationality on any part of what they call “Palestine.”

The Palestinian inhuman terrorism is not about Israeli racism or Apartheid. This claim is more than ridiculous. To refer to Israel being racist or Apartheid, is no less to stubbornly declare that Earth is flat, or that humans breathe not oxygen. 96 percent of the Palestinians in the territory west of the Jordan River, live on their own rule, either under the Palestinian Authority, or under the Hamas regime in Gaza. They whatsoever do not engage with Israel, and are free to live under Arab-Palestinian rule. They have nothing to do with “occupation.”

Palestinian terrorism is not about “occupation,” or “settlements,” or a declaration to establish a Palestinian state, or a demand to an Israeli return to the pre-1967 borders. Palestinian terrorism is mainly to remove, to totally wipe out Israel from the map of the Middle East. This inhuman Palestinian terrorism is due to the Palestinian politics of incitement and hatred, human record has never seen, including the Nazi era.  

Palestinian terrorism does not stem from poverty, misery or lack of education. We have dealt with this issue previously on other papers in Modern Diplomacy. This is stupid and ridiculous on the march. The ignorant media reporters, the biased one-sided “peace activists,” and the hypocrite politicians tell us that that the Palestinians resort to violence because they are “hopeless,” unemployed, impoverished and uneducated. The terrorists are well-educated (mostly university, engineers and physicians) and come from fluent families economically.

This is a world-wide situation. Precisely the poor and uneducated do not engage in terrorism. They work hard to feed their families; they do not have time for “revolutions;” and they do not know how to work in organizations. The media and now the social media are the main source of the terrorist activity, and they constantly motivate and direct the public with hateful, libelous accusations and pure false propaganda.

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Middle East

Israel-China Relations: Staring Into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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.

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Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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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Middle East

Foreign intervention in Libya

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Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Tripoli has transformed into an appalling sight of consistent injustice, rising fundamentalism and morbid law and order situation. Amidst the whirlwind of fractured institutions and failed socio political system in Libya, foreign countries have also found a suitable battleground for fighting their proxy wars. Currently, there are two governments operating in libya, each claiming to reflect the genuine mandate of Libyan people. The United Nations backed government of National Accord, under the leadership of President Fayaz al serraj is being supported by Turkey, Qatar, Italy and publically by all western democracies. Whereas, a shadow government, is being maneuvered from the eastern city of Tobruk. It enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2012, less than a year after NATO intervention, Libyans turned to polls, in the pursuit of voting for an efficient leadership. As a result of elections, the General National Congress or GNC came into power. It was tasked with devising a constitution within the next eighteen months. Despite, it’s full capacity, the government failed to deliver on time due to evident disorganization and post-gaddafi mayhem, which was still at large. However, Libyans again went to vote in 2014, electing a House of Representatives or HoR in power, this time. These elections were repudiated and their result was declared illegitimate by GNC, on the claims of low voter turnout and series of violence which engulfed the entire electoral process, across the country. Rejection to form government, forced HoR to flee Tripoli and establish itself in Tobruk, where they aligned themselves, with Libya’s strong man, commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Forces.

Haftar had remained a part of Libya’s political arena for as long as Muammar Gaddafi had, he joined the military in 1961 and served in its ranks until, the Chad misadventure of 1987, which not only made him fall out with Gaddafi, but also enforced him into exile in the United States. Nonetheless, Haftar returned to Libya after the war and started rebuilding his former network of loyalists who worked with him decades ago, and ended up establishing the Libyan National Forces. His forces launched “Operation Dignity”[1]in 2014, with the official intentions of relieving Libya from local militias, radical nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

Amidst the chaos of political deterioration and significant power vacuum, foreign countries started to manipulate the Libyan crisis for their own interests. Turkey is a regional player, and is severely concerned about their maritime trade route. For, being surrounded by hostile neighbors, Turkey finds it hard to trade through any other channel smoothly, except Mediterranean which it shares with Libya. Thus, it is actively vouching for a friendly government in Tripoli. Turkey’s parliament has recently passed the controversial law that has permitted the deployment of Turkish troops on Libyan soil, in order to support al Serraj’s government. Meanwhile, states like Italy and France are  interested in Libya’s oil resources, and are also supporting respective governments as per their interests. International oil companies such as Italian Eni, French Total and Russian Taftnet, along with British Petroleum are on and off, getting exploration and management contracts to tap oil resources, with the Libyan National oil corporation. Where Russian mercenaries are fighting on ground with Haftar’s forces, France has also provided covert logistical support to his forces, each interested in their own share of resources.

Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates, Cairo and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are eagerly backing Haftar’s LNA for the sake of preventing another wave of Arab spring, to reach their borders. UAE has conducted airstrikes on Benghazi in 2014, from an Egyptian base in Libya, in order to support Haftar’s operation Dignity. They have also recently established their own base in eastern province of Al-Khadir, to support further LNA’s advances. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also pledged it support to Haftar under the crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. As, just before Haftar’s Tripoli offensive,  Riyadh promised him millions to buy tribal leader’s loyalties and to financially support the fighters in LNA.

Another reason behind Arab countries ardent sponsorship is, the question of muslim brotherhood. LNA has vowed to eliminate all the elements of religious extremism, including the muslim brotherhood. Cairo, UAE and KSA are known for their crack down on the brotherhood, while Turkey and Qatar are assumed to support the political activities of organization. Such difference in approaches has also led these countries into a state of perennial proxy war with each other.  

Recent Moscow talks and Berlin conference, in the beginning of this year, has indeed provided an opportunity for all the parties in conflict to come on the negotiating table, and draw out strategies for adherently following the Libyan arms embargo of 2011, for effective ceasefire. Yet, without a proper policy in place, which can prevent foreign interventions in Libyan domestic crisis. It will create a potential environment for Tripoli to transcend into a turmoil similar to Syria and Yemen. War in Libya, has already incited an endless cycle of unnecessary fighting, uncountable deaths and a vicious void of ills like; human trafficking and smuggling. From, exponential worth of 53.2 billion dollars in 2012 to 4.6 billion dollars in 2016, Libya’s natural revenues have shrunken conspicuously over the last decade. In addition to that, with global coronavirus pandemic still out and loose, conflicts like one in Libya have a higher potential of turning into a major confrontation. It’s a textbook example of how precarious the situation might get, if not taken sensibly, by international community.


[1] Anderson, Jon Lee. “The unravelling.” The New Yorker 23 (2015).

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