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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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Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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With Turkish investigators asserting that they have found further evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed when he visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, Turkey appears to be leveraging the case to enhance its position as a leader of the Islamic World and reposition itself as a key US ally.

To enhance its geopolitical position vis a vis Saudi Arabia as well as Russia and Iran and potentially garner economic advantage at a time that it is struggling to reverse a financial downturn, Turkey has so far leaked assertions of evidence it says it has of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing rather than announced them officially.

In doing so, Turkey has forced Saudi Arabia to allow Turkish investigators accompanied by Saudi officials to enter the consulate and positioned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the kingdom’s saviour by engineering a situation that will allow the kingdom to craft a face-saving way out of the crisis.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering announcing that Mr. Khashoggi, a widely-acclaimed journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who went into self-exile because he feared arrest, was killed in either a rogue operation or an attempt gone awry to forcibly repatriate it him back to the kingdom.

US President Donald J. Trump offered the Turks and Saudis a helping hand by referring this week to the possibility of Mr. Khashoggi having been killed by rogues and dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh and Ankara.

Mr. Khashoggi, seeking to obtain proof of his divorce in the kingdom so that he could marry his Turkish fiancé, visited the consulate two weeks ago for the second time after having allegedly received assurances that he would be safe.

Turkey emerges as the crisis moves towards a situation in which an official version is agreed that seeks to shield Prince Mohammed from being held responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder with its international status significantly enhanced.

Turkish leverage is further boosted by the fact that Saudi Arabia — its image in government, political and business circles significantly damaged by the crisis — and the Trump administration that wants to ensure that the kingdom’s ruling family emerges from the crisis as unscathed as possible, are in Ankara’s debt.

As a result, the denouement of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to alter the dynamics in the long-standing competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world.

It also strengthens Turkey’s position in its transactional alliance with Russia and Iran as they manoeuvre to end the war in Syria in a manner that cements Bashar al-Assad’s presidency while addressing Turkish concerns.

Turkey’s position in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia is likely to also benefit from the fact that whatever face-saving solution the kingdom adopts is likely to be flawed when tested by available facts and certain to be challenged by a host of critics, even if many will see Turkey as having facilitated a political solution rather than ensuring that the truth is established.

Already, Mr. Khashoggi’s family who was initially quoted by Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media as backing Saudi denials of responsibility, insinuations that his fate was the product of a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, and casting doubt on the integrity of the journalist’s Turkish fiancée, has called for “the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death.”

Turkey and Saudi Arabia differ on multiple issues that divide the Muslim world. Turkey has vowed to help Iran circumvent Saudi-supported US sanctions imposed after Mr. Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear agreement.

Turkey further backs Qatar in its dispute with a Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance that has diplomatically and economically boycotted the Gulf state for the last 16 months. The credibility of the alliance’s allegation that Qatar supports terrorism and extremism has been dented by the growing conviction that Saudi Arabia, whether in a planned, rogue or repatriation effort gone wrong, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

Mr. Khashoggi’s death, moreover, highlighted differing approaches towards the Brotherhood, one of the Middle East’s most persecuted, yet influential Islamist groupings. Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and Egypt, have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Many brothers have sought refuge in Turkey with Mr. Erdogan empathetic and supportive of the group. A former brother, Mr. Khashoggi criticized Saudi repression of the group.

The Saudi-Turkish rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world was most evident in the two countries’ responses to Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his as yet unpublished plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Turkey emerged as the leader of Islamic denunciation of Mr. Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognition of the city as Israel’s capital after Prince Mohammed tried to dampen opposition. Ultimately, King Salman was forced to step in a bid to clarify the kingdom’s position and counter Turkish moves.

No matter how Turkey decides to officially release whatever evidence it has, Saudi Arabia figures out how to respond and halt the haemorrhaging, and Mr. Pompeo holds talks with King Salman and Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is likely to emerge from the crisis strengthened despite its increasingly illiberal and increasingly authoritarian rule at home,

Turkey’s success is all the more remarkable given that it has neither Saudi Arabia’s financial muscle nor the mantle the kingdom adopts as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

A successful political resolution of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to earn it the gratitude of the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, and its other detractors like the UAE who support the kingdom even if it may help it to regain popularity in the Arab world lost as a result of its swing towards authoritarianism, alliance with Iran and Qatar, and support for Islamism.

One immediate Turkish victory is likely to be Saudi acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s demand that Saudi Arabia drop its support for Kurdish rebels in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists – a move that would boost Turkey’s position the Turkish-Russian-Iranian jockeying for influence in a post-war Syria. Turkey is also likely to see Saudi Arabia support it economically.

Turkey may, however, be playing for higher stakes.

Turkey “wants to back Saudi Arabia to the wall. (It wants to) disparage the ‘reformist’ image that Saudi Arabia has been constructing in the West” in a bid to get the US to choose Ankara as its primary ally in the Middle East, said international relations scholar Serhat Guvenc.

Turkey’s relations in recent years have soured as a result of Turkish insistence that the US is harbouring a terrorist by refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the preacher it accuses of having engineered the failed 2016 coup; detaining American nationals and US consulate employees on allegedly trumped up charges, cosying up to Russia and purchasing its S-400 surface to air missile system, and aligning itself with Iran. Relations were further strained by US support for Syrian Kurds.

Mr. Trump, however this week heralded a new era in US-Turkish relations after the release of unsubscribeAndrew Brunson, an evangelist preacher who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges of espionage.

Mr. Guvenc argued that Turkey hopes that Saudi Arabia’s battered image will help it persuade Mr. Trump that Turkey rather than the kingdom is its strongest and most reliable ally alongside Israel in the Middle East.

Said journalist Ferhat Unlu: “”Turkey knows how to manage diplomatic crises. Its strategy is to manage tensions to its advantage,”

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MbS: Riding roughshod or playing a risky game of bluff poker?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A stalemate in efforts to determine what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is threatening to escalate into a crisis that could usher in a new era in relations between the United States and some of its closest Arab allies as well as in the region’s energy politics.

In response to US President Donald J. Trump’s threat of “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is proven to have been responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance while visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia is threatening to potentially upset the region’s energy and security architecture.

A tweet by Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy thanking the United States for not jumping to conclusions did little to offset the words of an unnamed Saudi official quoted by the state-run news agency stressing  the kingdom’s “total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations.”

The official was referring to the kingdom’s insistence that it was not responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and assertion that it is confronting a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The kingdom also affirms that if it is (targeted by) any action, it will respond with greater action,” the official said noting that Saudi Arabia “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy.”

Turki Aldhakhil, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and general manager of the kingdom’s state-controlled Al Arabiya news network, claimed in an online article that Saudi leaders were discussing 30 ways of responding to possible US sanctions.

They allegedly included allowing oil prices to rise up to US$ 200 per barrel, which according to Mr. Aldhakhil, would lead to “the death” of the US economy, pricing Saudi oil in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, an end to intelligence sharing, and a military alliance with Russia that would involve a Russian military base in the kingdom.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Aldhakhil was reflecting serious discussions among secretive Saudi leaders or whether his article was intended either as a scare tactic or a trial balloon. Mr. Aldakhil’s claim that a Saudi response to Western sanctions could entail a reconciliation with the kingdom’s arch enemy, Iran, would make his assertion seem more like geopolitical and economic bluff.

Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a coordinated response aimed at demonstrating that Saudi Arabia was not isolated, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt rushed to express solidarity with the kingdom. Like Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have a track record of suppressing independent journalism and freedom of the press.

Ironically, Turkey may be the kingdom’s best friend in the Khashoggi crisis if its claims to have incontrovertible proof of what happened in the consulate prove to be true. Turkey has so far refrained from making that evidence public, giving Saudi Arabia the opportunity to come up with a credible explanation.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip “Erdogan wants to give Saudis an exit out of #Khashoggi case, hoping the Saudi king/crown prince will blame ‘rogue elements’ for the alleged murder, then throwing someone important under the bus. This would let Erdogan walk away looking good & prevent rupture in Turkey-Saudi ties,” tweeted Turkey scholar Soner Cagaptay.

The Saudi news agency report and Mr. Aldakhil’s article suggest that Prince Mohammed believes that Saudi Arabia either retains the clout to impose its will on much of the international community or believes that it rather than its Western critics would emerge on top from any bruising confrontation.

Prince Mohammed no doubt is reinforced in his belief by Mr. Trump’s reluctance to include an arms embargo in his concept of severe punishment. He may also feel that Western support for the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and reluctance to credibly take the kingdom to task for its conduct of the war was an indication that he was free to do as he pleased.

Prince Mohammed may have been further strengthened in his belief by the initial course of events 28 years ago, the last time that the fate of a journalist was at the centre of a crisis between a Western power and an Arab country.

At the time, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, similar to Mr. Trump’s inclination, refused to impose economic sanctions after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered the arrest, torture and execution of Farhad Barzoft, a young London-based Iranian journalist who reported for The Observer.

Since declassified British government documents disclosed that Mrs. Thatcher’s government did not want to jeopardize commercial relations despite its view of the Iraqi government as a “ruthless and disagreeable regime.”

The comparison between the Khashoggi crisis and the case of Mr. Barzoft goes beyond Western governments’ reluctance to jeopardize commercial relationships.

Mr Barzoft was executed months before Mr. Hussein’s military invaded Kuwait prompting US-led military action that forced his troops to withdraw from the Gulf state, crippling economic sanctions, and ultimately the 2003 Gulf War that, no matter how ill-advised, led to the Iraqi leader’s downfall and ultimate execution.

Prince Mohammed’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen, of which Mr. Khashoggi was critical in one of his last Washington Post columns, has tarnished the kingdom’s international prestige and sparked calls in the US Congress and European parliaments for an embargo on arms sales that have gained momentum with the disappearance of the Saudi journalist.

To be sure Saudi Arabia enjoys greater leverage than Iraq did in 1990. By the same token, 2018 is not 1973, the first and only time the kingdom ever wielded oil as a weapon against the United States. At the time, the US was dependent on Middle Eastern oil, today it is one of, if not the world’s largest producer.

More fundamentally, Prince Mohammed appears to show some of the traits Mr. Hussein put on display, including a seeming lack of understanding of the limits of power and best ways to wield it, a tendency towards impetuousness, a willingness to take risks and gamble without having a credible exit strategy, a refusal to tolerate any form of criticism, and a streak of ruthlessness.

“We’re discovering what this ‘new king’ is all about, and it’s getting worrisome. The dark side is getting darker,” said David Ottaway, a journalist and scholar who has covered Saudi Arabia for decades.

Mr. Hussein was public and transparent about Mr. Barzoft’s fate even if his assertion that the journalist was a spy lacked credibility and the journalist’s confession and trial were a mockery of justice.

Prince Mohammed flatly denies any involvement in the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi and appears to believe that he can bully himself out of the crisis in the absence of any evidence that the journalist left the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate of his own volition.

Mr. Hussein miscalculated with his invasion of Kuwait shortly after getting away with the killing of Mr. Barzoft.

Prince Mohammed too may well have miscalculated if the kingdom is proven to be responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Mr. Hussein’s reputation and international goodwill was irreparably damaged by his execution of Mr. Barzoft and invasion of Kuwait.

Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has dealt a body blow to Saudi Arabia’s prestige irrespective of whether the journalist emerges from the current crisis alive or dead.

King Salman and the kingdom appear for now to be rallying the wagons around the crown prince.

At the same time, the king has stepped into the fray publicly for the first time by phoning Turkish president Erdogan to reaffirm Saudi cooperation with an investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate.

It remains unclear whether that phone call will pave the way for Turkish investigators to enter the Istanbul consulate as well as the Saudi consul general’s home and whether they will be allowed to carry out forensics.

The longer the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate stalls, the more Saudi Arabia will come under pressure to put forth a credible explanation and the harder Western leaders will be pressed by public opinion and lawmakers to take credible action if Saudi Arabia is proven to be responsible.

A Saudi decision to act on its threats to rejigger its security arrangements and energy policy, even if overstated by Mr. Aldhakhil, in response to steps by Western nations to penalize the kingdom,  could prove to have not only far-reaching international consequences but, in the final analysis, also equally momentous domestic ones.

“Looks like #Saudi royal family is coming together to protect the family business. Eventually there will be internal reckoning with what transpired. Not now. Now is the time to save the family reign,” tweeted Middle East scholar Randa Slim.

Said former US State Department and White House official Elliott Abrams: “Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.”

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Middle East

Syrian Kurds between Washington, Turkey and Damascus

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The recent turmoil over Idlib has pushed the developments in Syrian Kurdistan out of political and mass media spotlight. However, it’s Idlib that will most likely host the final act of the drama, which has become known as the “civil war in Syria”.

The self-proclaimed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), or Rojava, was formed in 2016, although de facto it has existed since 2012. Added later was the hydrocarbon-rich left bank of the Euphrates, which had been cleared of militants of ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), and now the jurisdiction of the unrecognized DFNS extends to almost a third of the country’s territory.

From the very start the main threat to the existence of this predominantly Kurdish quasi-state came for obvious reasons from Turkey, where Turkish Kurds were set on securing autonomy. In addition, the most influential political force in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the latter has officially been declared a terrorist organization and unofficially – a number one enemy – in Turkey.

In January-March 2018, the Turkish army, backed by the Arab and Turkomanen allies, occupied part of the territory of Rojava (canton Afrin). And it looks like Ankara plans to settle on these territories: recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Afrin will be transferred to its residents “when the time comes” and that “this time will be set by us”. In the meantime, according to local media reports, the demographic situation in the canton is changing rapidly. Taking advantage of the fact that many Kurds left their homes at the approach of the Turkish army, the local (in fact, Turkish) administration is bringing in Arabs here, who, in many cases, are not Syrian Arabs.

Kurdish politicians, fully aware of the fact that amid Turkey, Iran and Syria maintaining statehood without outside assistance is hardly possible, opted for the patronage of Washington. And, as it seems, they lost.

In Syria, the Americans decided to replay the “Kosovo scenario”, by turning part of a sovereign state into a political structure, which is allied to them. Washington, which only recently excluded the People’s Protection Units (the armed wing of the Democratic Forces), from the list of terrorist organizations, argues, like Ankara, that its military personnel will remain in the region “for an indefinite period” to protect Kurdish territories from “aggression” on the part of Damascus. And from Ankara’s ambitions as well. But this is read between the lines.

All this enabled Turkey to accuse the United States of supporting terrorism and relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated into a crisis. As mutual accusations, occasionally supported by political and economic demarches, persist, the parties, however, are beginning to look for common ground. Talks on June 4, 2018 in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo resulted in a “road map” for the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from predominantly Arab Manbij, which Kurds regained control of from ISIL (an organization banned in Russia) two years ago. The next day, the Turkish minister announced that the Kurdish troops “… would retreat east of the Euphrates. However, this does not mean that we will agree that they stay there. ” On September 24, 2018, upon arriving at the UN General Assembly, Erdogan confirmed: Turkey will expand its sphere of influence in Syria, by including areas that are under control of the Kurdish armed units.

If Turkey does not change its rhetoric, then the assurances of the American authorities that the US troops will remain in Syria are intermingled with statements about the need for the withdrawal of its forces from this country. In any case, it is unlikely that the United States will choose to leave the region “to its own devices”. We can recall how Washington trumpeted the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan! But things haven’t budged an inch since then. The Afghanistan example demonstrates that the Americans will not move out of Syria that easily – they will not pull out in full, at least not of their own free will. US instructors and pilots will remain here “for an indefinite period.” But who will they care of and support? Here are the options:

Firstly, it could be a hypothetical “Arab NATO” with Saudi Arabia in the lead. But there are serious doubts as to the effectiveness of such a structure – even if we forget about the level of combat readiness of these kinds of coalitions (in Yemen, for example), Arab countries could unite only on an anti-Israeli platform. And that, as history shows, is unlikely to yield success. In addition to this, it is still unclear how Kurds, the majority of whom are not religious, will react to Wahhabi commanders.

Secondly, the United States could choose to strengthen the Arab sector of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (Rojava militia) at the expense of the Kurds. In mid-September, a number of media outlets, citing sources in the Syrian opposition, reported that Saudi emissaries had already suggested this option while meeting with leaders of the Arab tribes living east of the Euphrates. However, this development is also fraught with the Kurdish-Arab confrontation.

Thirdly, Washington persists in its attempts to improve relations with Turkey,  distancing it from Russia and Iran, and instruct it to “maintain order” in the region: the Americans did not intervene in the Operation Olive Branch and made concessions on Manbij. Even though this might seem strange amid the hostile American-Turkish rhetoric, military and political contacts between Washington and Ankara have been on the rise in recent months. Moreover, President Erdogan has already stated that he believes in an early improvement of relations with the United States despite the “inconsistency” and “economic aggression” of Washington.

Meanwhile, we need to remember that the US control over Kurds is far from unlimited. The “people’s protection units” are ideologically close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or could even be seen as its “branch” in Syria), and the PKK itself, grown on the Marxist ideas, would normally support the Soviet Union and “by inertia” – Russia. For this reason, the Americans have to threaten the Kurdish allies with a cessation of military and financial support. Reports say the US and Turkish troops are already operating in the Manbij area, having dislodged the Kurdish YPG militia from the area.

These threats, along with the self-withdrawal of the United States during the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops, have made Kurds doubt the reliability of their patron. The result is a move towards rapprochement with Damascus. In late July, the Kurdish leadership announced an agreement with the Syrian authorities on the creation of a “road map” for the formation of a decentralized Syria.

The Americans are not sitting idle either, though it looks like they have no concrete plan of action. Such a conclusion comes from Donald Trump’s somewhat incoherent answers to questions from a correspondent of the Kurdish media group Rudaw (09/27/2018):

Question: What are you planning to do for (Syrian – AI) Kurds?

Answer: We will offer them a lot of help. As you know, we are good friends to them, we fought shoulder to shoulder with ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), we recently defeated ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation). We accomplished this with the support of the Kurds. They are great warriors. You know, some nations are great warriors, and some are not. The Kurds are great warriors, they are a wonderful people. We are currently negotiating this.

Question: So what will you do to support them?

Answer: As I said, we will negotiate this, we have begun negotiations. The Kurds have helped us a lot to crush ISIS (an organization banned in the Russian Federation).

Most likely, the hot phase of the protracted inter-Syrian conflict is nearing its end, and the preferences of the Kurds will determine the outcome of future elections, a referendum, or another form of will expression of the Syrian people, when the political situation allows it. Moscow has always called for involving Kurds in the negotiation process and on ensuring their full participation in the life of post-war Syria. “Russia insists that Kurds should participate in the process to determine the post-conflict future of Syria on a parity basis with other ethnic and religious groups of this country,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama.

Until recently, Damascus did not particularly pedal negotiations with Rojava, but being aware that the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops was not in its interests, it has adjusted its approach to the self-proclaimed territorial entity. It looks like Syrian leaders have opted for softening their stance, which was previously set on the revival of the country on the basis of unitarism. Otherwise, an agreement with the Kurds will be nowhere in sight.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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