What about Jews’ legal rights? Israel’s political rights and sovereignty over the mandated territory called ‘Palestine’ were favored under International Law. In 1917 Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, issued his famous ‘Declaration,’ with the consent of the cabinet. In 1920, the Ottoman Empire in Article 95 of the Treaty of Sevres, granted its sovereignty in the Middle East, which had been undisputed for 400 years, to Great Britain. In 1920 San Remo convention, the Allies adopted Lord Balfour’s declaration as its policy, called ‘The British Mandate,’ that became International Law.
The 1922 Palestine Mandate specifically refers to the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine,” and called for the Jewish people to begin “reconstituting of their national home.” In 1924, the British Mandate became the domestic law of England and the US. The UN continued with this policy, according to article 80 of its Charter. So, Israel emerged from the British Mandate with the support of the League of Nations, and recognition of the UN.
Furthermore, 99% of the lands captured from the Ottomans in the Middle East and the North Africa was allocated to the Arabs. Only 1% was given to the Jews under the British mandate. After Churchill gave Transjordan to Abdullah, the Arabs and Muslims had 99.77% of the lands, and the Jews only one quarter of one percent. These figures expose the whole reality of the Middle East. Does Israel really threaten the Arab world? Or perhaps better say, Israel is under a lethal threat of existence, of total annihilation as a state and as a people from the Arab and Muslim world.
The assertion that Israel came into existence on the basis of injustice done to the Palestinian nation proceeds on gross errors and 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 twisting it. To argue that Israel took areas belonging to a Palestinian political entity in the Six Day War is a gross lie, since there was no Palestinian sovereignty on any territory. The fact is that in the 1967 war, Israel conquered militarily areas of mandatory Palestine which had been occupied by Jordan, which annexed the ‘West Bank;’ and Egypt, which retained the Mandatory system in Gaza.
After the failure of the Arab states in 1948 war to defeat Israel, frontiers for the Jewish state were determined in negotiations with the Arab states, which appropriated the Palestinian issue to themselves. All armistice agreements were conducted and signed by the Arab states. No mention of the ‘Palestinians’ as a people and ‘Palestine’ as a territory. The fact is that UN Resolution 194, of December 11, 1948, refers mainly to conciliation regime between Israel and the Arab states, and only in Article 11 does it relate to the ‘refugee problem’ in general terms. If this means Palestinians, it no less means Jewish refugees from Arab states.
The allegations that Israel was established by the European colonialism, is cynical, ironical and aberration of the truth. It is exactly the Arab States that deserve their nationalities to the decisions of the European powers, including the delineating of their entire borders. Moreover, to accuse Israel of being the product of European colonialism, while the history of the Arabs and Islam is the pure form of imperialism, colonialism and occupation, is again twisting the truth.
The Middle East was mainly Christian before it was occupied by Islam; Egypt was Pharaonic; Iraq was Babylonian and Assyrian; Iran was Sassanid; Syria was Chaldean and Ugarit; Lebanon was Phoenician; the Land of Israel was Jewish and Christian; Turkey was Christian and partly Buddhist; North Africa was Berber; Afghanistan and Pakistan were Christian and Buddhist. They all and many other countries were harshly occupied and colonized by the Arabs and Islam. While European colonialism demised, Arab-Islamic colonialism and imperialism thrives and expanding ever today.
As about the Arab-Islamic historical cultural heritage, a short tour reveals everything. When a tourist visits Egypt, all he find are Pharaonic traditions. If he visits Iraq, all he find are Babylonian and Assyrian sites (unfortunately demolished by the Islamic Caliphate State). The same occurs with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other places. What about Islamic historical cultural sites?
The Palestinian refugees Issue. The Palestinians initiated a highly successful propaganda campaign that Israel occupies the land belonging solely to them, uprooted its nation and scattered them out of their land. The Palestinian Nakbah has become a myth, the lost paradise, and thus the utmost specter. However, even here, historical facts reveal that the original political use of the Nakbah was in 1920, when the local Arabs vehemently objected the separation of the territory from Syria.
The Palestinian national narrative depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the original sin, routinely equated with the Jewish Holocaust, and its remedy is turning the clock back to 1948. All Palestinian refugees, not just those still alive from 1948, but their millions of descendants, would be allowed to return to their homes. By that, this would entail the ending of the Jewish Zionist state.
The Palestinian issue is not a problem of refugees, since only a very small minority of them live in camps, and the socioeconomic data and the living standards show clearly that their situation not only resembles hundreds of millions of inhabitants of Third World countries, but in many ways the Palestinian economy and social situation is much better than at least one hundred states, including some Arab states.
The Palestinian issue is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land, since most of the Palestinians live in the land of ‘Mandatory Palestine,’ in area less than the distance between New York and Philadelphia. Small part of them still resides in refugee camps only because some still hope of the destruction of the State of Israel.
The Palestinian issue is not a problem of a society that was scattered from its human environment, since almost all Palestinians live and reside in an Arabic speaking society and culture, among their own society. It is absolutely clear that the total majority of the so-called Palestinian refugees are in no sense true refugees, according to world standards and social-economic reality.
In the past ninety years, more than 130 million refugees around the world, mainly from Europe and Asia, of which only 640,000 were Palestinians. That is only one half of one percent of world refugees. This is the correct proportion. Of all the millions of people who became refugees, the only ones who still count themselves as refugees and who live at the expense of the nations of the world are the Palestinians. Over 90% of the refugees in the world have been rehabilitated, residing in the places where they resettled.
The enormous donations to the Palestinians are unfortunately earmarked mainly for corruption and terrorism. Those who are in need in Asia and Africa receive nothing. The poverty, misery and wretchedness are really there, mainly in Africa, but only the Palestinians get the world’s political, social and financial attention. The Palestinians live off the world’s charity at the expense of those who are truly in need of that charity.
One example of the so many of this tragedy is sufficed to illuminate the sick situation, and it comes precisely from a Muslim state: Pakistan. In August 2010 there were huge areas flooded in Pakistan, causing at least twenty million refugees without any means of living. It was defined by the UN “the greatest humanitarian disaster.” However, except of lip service declarations, including the UN Secretary General calling the world to donate money, the UN itself did nothing to treat these miserable refugees as compare to what the Palestinians get regularly.
The same situation occurred in 2009, where two millions of Pakistanis run away from their homes in Swat region taken by the Taliban, without even water to drink, but with the same pattern of the UN: doing nothing. The UN High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, described the displacement crisis as “one of the most dramatic in recent times,” but except of these high words UNHCR did very little to assist and sustain them.
And this is only one example of the so-many all over the world, let alone the last example of the Syrian tragedy of 9 million refugees scattered around without any help, that makes one sick and disgusted how the Palestinians succeed in manipulating world public opinion, attention and money donations.
More illuminating and disturbing data give proportion to the Palestinian situation: a) at any given moment there are 15 to 25 million refugees living ‘outside of their border’ according to UN date, without food and shelter, in conditions far direr than the Palestinians; b) there are almost two hundred national-ethnic peoples in the world begging desperately for statehood, who do not wish to gain their independence at the cost of ruining other nation; c) one third of world population drink polluted water, most of them drink water that endanger their health, and every hour 8000 children die solely from drinking polluted water; d) one quarter of world populations have no toilets at home and use holes in a field; e) according to reliable data, there are 240 million slave-children around the world, including many from Muslim countries; f) there are, according to UNICEF and the International Woman Research, 51 million child-brides, all from Islamic countries, most of them are sexually harassed and beaten regularly, including one hundred million mutilated women.
The Palestinians are not included in this long poor miserable list.
There are three categories of refugees, according to the United Nations: refugees from all over the world; Palestinian refugees; and Jews refugees — with a totally different treatment. The first category is the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with refugees from all over the world, with the aim to give them a basic treatment, and to find quick and safe shelter for them, so that they are integrated or settled down as soon as possible. Those refugees are discouraged to remain refugees and to quickly find other accommodation alternatives. The budget allocated of UNHCR is 1.5 billion US$, with 6300 working personnel.
The second category is the Palestinian refugees. They are the special, privileged class. There is a special, separate UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), whose principal duty is to perpetuate their status as refugees forever; to prevent any attempt to settle them down; to provide them, their children and the next generations to the end of history to get a monthly special humanitarian social, economic, and welfare treatment. From 640 thousand refugees in 1948, UNRWA supports almost 4.5 million so-called Palestinian refugees. For that, it is the largest organization of the UN’s, with more than 28 thousand working personnel, 90 percent of them are Palestinians, and 2 billion US$ budget.
Under the humanitarian cover, UNRWA acts as a political organ, a giant pressure group for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee’s situation. Its activity is counterproductive in terms of the possibility of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem, by relegating them to a state of passivity and dependency.
Yet it is much worse. All educational system and schools run by UNRWA actively serve as greenhouses for praising terrorism as a source of hideous hatred and demonism against Israel and the Jews, and active bases of terrorism instruction and operations. The money donated by the Western states that defines Hamas and other groups as terrorist organizations goes to terrorism; the food supply serve Hamas activity; its warehouses stores weapons; and its workers drive terrorists and weapons with the cars and ambulances of UNRWA. Taken the huge money pour upon them, there is absolutely no motivation of the Palestinians to handle the issue and to recover out of the refugee status.
The third category is the Jews. Nobody took care about them after the Second World War, and nobody even knows there was a Jewish refugee problem. After the establishment of the State of Israel, a million of Jews became refugees in many Arab lands, and had to leave their houses and huge property in Arab countries and to flee to Israel. None of these Jewish refugees were helped by the United Nations. All were set-tled long ago in their new environments, without being parasites of the world.
The following examples put the Palestinian refugees in perspective:
In April 2004, the UN General Assembly decided that it is impossible to implement the rights of the two hundred thousand Greeks and the fifty thousand Turks to return to their homes in partitioned Cyprus, cruelly occupied by Turkey in 1974, because “the new reality which has been created” must be taken into consideration. However, this stand of the UN is totally different concerning the Palestinian refugees. Why?
Following World War II, 11 million Germans were expelled from their homes in the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania, and were force-marched to Germany. Two million died on the way, but the others were absorbed in Germany. In 2004, few of them were seeking to return to their homes, not demanding to dissolve the country from which they were deported; not demanding to replace it; and not demanding money compensation. In August 2004, the German government determined they have no right of return even no reparations. However, the attitude of Germany and the EU towards the Palestinian refugees is totally different. Why?
In 1968, the British Government exiled 5,000 of the residents of the Island of Diego Garcia, for the purpose of constructing an American air base. In 2003, the exiled residents demand to return to their homes in the island. Their demand was rejected by the British High Court of Justice that ruled out that the residents have neither the right to return nor to receive compensations. However, the British stand toward the Palestinian refugee problem is different. Why?
Now the question is that out of all the misery and suffering in the world, and the last years are notoriously known of huge disasters culminating in tragedies almost everywhere, not to speak of the Millions refugees flooding Europe, the world is busy with the false detached “humanitarian situation in Gaza” and the need of “rescue flotillas” for the Palestinians? Why the world is silent while there are more than a billion poor and miserable starving and dying people around the world, the Palestinians continue to receive billions of dollars yearly? This immoral and unjustified flow of money continues even when the donating countries and the UN clearly know that large part of it goes to produce terrorism against Israel and increased corruption among the Palestinians.
Why the Kurds, 25 million people with well-known documented history living in the same Middle East, have no state of their own and nobody cares about their situation? Why the Christians, the original population in most of the Arab states, have become extinct species and nobody cares about their miserable fate, while the Palestinians are treated and sustained as if they are the last and only people with denied national aspirations? Indeed, the Palestinians got the greatest luck ever: Israel is their enemy. Otherwise, no one would have cared about them.
The Palestinians should look into the mirror and honestly ask: why there is no Palestinian state today? Is it Israel’s refusal, or their leadership’s obstinacy demanding ‘all or nothing’? The Palestinians could have established their state according to UN partition plan of November 1947 (decision 181), with a bigger territory than Israel. The Arabs could have conclude peace with Israel after 1948, instead of armistice agreements and establish a state for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, as most of contemporary plans are aimed to. However, unfortunately, both the Palestinian leadership and Arab states declined. The real question is whether the Palestinians are ready to establish a state on the 1967 borders, and to recognize Israel’s legitimacy by declaring the end of hostilities. Unfortunately, all indicators are clear: they do not, and they still believe they can achieve it all and destroy Israel.
One of the main reasons for their stubbornness is the political support, almost blindly and totally, they get from the international system, mainly from Europe, the UN, and even the US. The international community has emboldened them into believing that Israel can be delegitimized and weakened through international pressure. All the Palestinians need is to hold out long enough for achieving their ultimate goal. This situation of putting their case above most of world issues, as if their case is solved all other issues coming from the Middle East, including the Islamic immigration, are solved, is disastrous for the world; counter-productive for the Palestinians; and lethal to the existence of Israel.
There is mainly one cause to the continuation of this conflict, which is buried beneath an avalanche of media coverage and politicians’ declarations designed to obfuscate and confuse reality — the Palestinians’ refusal to come to terms with Israel’s existence as a Jewish Zionist state. Indeed, this conflict is not about the right of self-determination of the “Palestinian,” but rather it is about Jewish self-determination; it is not about Israel’s stubbornness and rejection of a “Palestinian state,” but rather about Arab and Palestinian stubborn rejection of Jewish statehood; it is not about Israel’s refusal to compromise, the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties clearly prove it, but about the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to compromise and to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
Now, the question is why the Palestinians succeed in their propaganda full of lies and uncorroborated and unsubstantiated facts? The answer lies in the following syndromes:
The first is the Ignorance-Disinformation Syndrome (IDS). Most of the people, even those who have constant information of the situation, are not acquainted enough and do not know the details and the characteristics of the conflict, mainly because of cultural and ignorant barriers. One cannot avoid detecting the incredible amount of ignorance regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, so, when one pours highly concentrated lies and disinformation to the ignorant, the success is surely his.
Disputes about opinions and views when the facts are known is understandable; different views in describing facts are reasonable, since history is not an exact science; even Rashomon of telling different stories is acceptable. But, the fact is that so much Palestinian disinformation and atrocious lies has been poured so many years and by so many educated and intelligent people, is amazing. Distortions, misconceptions, and unadulterated lies are common, so that it became the whole truth.
Why do the Palestinians twist the reality? It is because they know their case is weak and unconvincing; because this is a cultural syndrome proven in Islamic history when relating to the other; because this is the message of the Qur’an that for the promotion of Islamic interests cheating and deceiving are permitted, and mainly because they wish not a compromised solution, but want it all. Why do they continue lying? Because they have solid proofs that their lies succeed, and world public opinion, leaders and the media, do not condemn them. The media is the Palestinians’ best friend.
James Baldwin, the American author has put this syndrome as follows: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
This is the reason why Goethe had reiterated the idea: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” This is why Alan Dershowitz has put it so succinctly: “When the best are accused being the worst, you have to look at the accusers.”
To make the situation even more complicated, there is the Mirror Image Syndrome (MIS), the twisted psychological behavioral and conceptual lenses through which we look into the situation and interpret it. This is perhaps our most lethal enemy, proven through historical research by Barbara Tuchman (the march of folly of leaders; their blind stubbornness, and their permeability of mind). It is also proven through psychological research by Norman Dixon (denying reality and rationalizing it); and through surprise attacks and misconceptions research. We analyze the situation and relate to our enemy through our own values and conceptions. However, what if our enemy is different from us culturally and conceptually? What if he is devoted to achieve his goals by all means we do not even appreciate politically and understand culturally? What if we play Checkmate while they play Sheshbesh?
In his the Missing Peace, the American Diplomat, Dennis Ross, noticed the salient fact that for the Arabs, any Israeli withdrawal and relinquishment is not enough. The revolutionary change is yet to come for the Arab world to recognize Israeli needs, let alone its existence. It is not enough to sit at the negotiation table and to talk peace and yet to maintain a different atmosphere in the streets, in the media and politics. Without a real change in Arab-Islamic political culture, it is highly doubtful that the Middle East is on the path of change towards peace. On the contrary, it is still a huge barrier to peace, as much as to democracy and civil rights. The Middle East, Ross concludes, is going backwards and not progressing, with a continued militancy of Islamism.
The Nazi and Japanese analogy is most instructive. As long as racism and militarism was the basis of Nazi and Japanese society, both could not enter the modern democratic world. The Allied powers, headed by the US, understood that the military defeat is not enough, and imposed a radical change on Nazi and Japanese societal values, education and politics. Germany and Japan were forced to abandon their ancient tradition of nationalistic racism and militarism and to embrace an open system of democracy. Only then were they able to become democratic and technologically advanced nations. This must be applicable, first and foremost to the Palestinians, who are spoiled by the blind international support (and to the Muslims at large concerning the West).
Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the Aggressiveness-Victimhood as against Political Correct Syndrome (AVPCS). That means, understanding the ramifications of Arab-Islamic cultural phenomenon of victimhood as against Western politically correct approach. The Western trauma of politically correct of not to offend the other and to act according to fashion goes exactly with the Muslim demand of honor and not to be offended, being a supremacist religion.
The Arab-Muslims raise to unprecedented extremes their sensibilities; they immediately declare they are offended almost on every realm and every issue in day by day life. This situation, in its turn, deepens Western politically correct approach, and that process end with capitulation and apologies.
Whatever they do; no matter how aggressive is their behavior; how deep and horrible the atrocious violence they exhibit — from Arab-Muslim perspective, they are always the innocent victims who only defend their honor, their life and their land. This is a very well-known syndrome of the Arab-Islamic cultural trait of crying out and complaint (I’rad Baka’- Shaqa’), which is exemplified by the Arab saying: Darabni wa-Baka, Sabaqani wa-Shtaka (he hit me and cried out, he overtook me and grumbled). Add to this the Judeo-Christian guilt remorse, of internalizing the guilt, and the Arab-Islamic cultural syndrome of externalizing the guilt, and the result is clear: Arab Muslims win the situation, and Western civilization capitulates.
However, the most important is the leading scientific culture syndrome of the ‘post’ era, of ‘post imperialism’, ‘post modernism,’ ‘post colonialism,’ and relativism. This has become the new ideology, the god of new Western scientific era. Pascal Bruckner has called the Western intelligentsia’s new form as “tyranny of guilt,” a self-effacement of Western masochism that forbids any critical inquiry into the historical narratives of national movements granted the sanctified status of “oppressed.”
The Nakbah narrative cannot even be challenged. This is the horrible legacy of Edward Said’s atrocious approach of Orientalism, which was criticized harshly, among many others, by Bernard Lewis and Ibn Warraq. This approach has become a highly sophisticated grand strategy built on the foundations laid down by Said: all you have to win over is to disqualify, to invalidate and to delegitimize the other, whatever the circumstances, the situation and reality are. This one-sided totality, this black and white absoluteness, is one of the conspicuous cultural traits of Islam, known as al-Wala’ wal-Bara’, the loyalty to Islam and the animosity and hatred of the other.
The dire situation inherited from Said’s legacy is that contemporary Western research of the Middle East and Islam suffers from fear and dictation, out of post-colonial and guilt remorse and inferiority complex. According to this, one must accept the Middle East as is and must absolutely refrain of any judgment (but unfortunately and so tragically not Africa and Third World countries; only the Middle East!). This means that only the post-modernists, and of course Arabs and Muslims, hold the pure true academic indisputable knowledge of that field. Anyone who dares criticizing Arabs and Islam is being immediately accused outright as racist and Islamophobe.
Professor Fuad Ajami clearly stated: an accommodation with Israel is imperative, but the Palestinian leaders still demanding to have it all, ‘from the river to the sea.’ The Arab states have compounded the Palestinian radicalism, granted them everything and nothing at the same time, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to moderation and realism. The Palestinians should know better, aside from a handful of the most messianic Israelis and Europeans, there is a recognition that the Palestinians must come to term with reason and live in peace with Israel, or to drop off the history.
These are the basic reasons for the successful Palestinian’s propaganda of twisting reality and winning world public opinion’s stand. Of course, there is room for criticism on all sides. No one is solely righteous and no one is totally guilty of the situation. However, there is hardly such a case in which history has been so thoroughly written upside down and inside out and facts have been so profoundly manipulated as by the Palestinians. One day historians will devote in-depth many volumes studies of how did the Palestinians succeed in fooling so many people in such a long time, without the entire world standing up and crying out: enough is enough. Indeed, one can safely say: you can fool most of the people all the time; you can fool all the people most of the time; but you cannot fool all the people all the time – unless you are the Palestinians.
As Steven Simpson has put it, the fact is that the Palestinians and the Muslims at large still point to these hateful verses in the Qur’an, should give us a pause to consider if there can ever be true peace between Muslims and Jews. In the religious and cultural context, let alone the national territorial rivalry, the Palestinians cannot accept a Jewish state, and the big question under these circumstances, is it likely that true peace will reign in the Land of Israel?
Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies
Saudi sports diplomacy is proving to be a mirror image of the kingdom’s challenged domestic, regional and foreign policies.
Overlorded by sports czar Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi sports diplomacy, like the kingdom’s broader policies, has produced at best mixed results, suggesting that financial muscle coupled with varying degrees of coercion does not guarantee success.
Mr. Al-Sheikh, a 37-year old brash and often blunt former honorary president of Saudi soccer club Al Taawoun based in Buraidah, a stronghold of religious ultra-conservatism, and a former bodyguard of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is together with Saud al-Qahtani among the king-in-waiting’s closest associates.
Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest investors, acknowledged Mr. Al-Sheikh’s ranking in the Saudi hierarchy when he made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to Saudi soccer club Al Hilal FC weeks after having been released from detention.
Prince al-Waleed was one of the more recalcitrant detainees among the scores of members of the ruling family, prominent businessmen and senior officials who were detained a year ago in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel as part of Prince Mohammed’s power and asset grab.
Prince Al-Waleed said on Twitter at the time that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”
Mr. Al-Qahtani, who was recently fired as Prince Mohammed’s menacing information czar in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was banned this week from travelling outside the kingdom. Mr. Al-Sheikh has not been linked to the Khashoggi murder.
Nevertheless, his sports diplomacy, exhibiting some of the brashness that has characterized Prince Mohammed as well as Mr Al-Qahtani’s approach, has largely failed to achieve its goals. If anything, it appears to have contributed to the kingdom’s growing list of setbacks.
Those goals included establishing Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse in regional and global soccer governance; countering Qatari sports diplomacy crowned by its hosting of the 2022 World Cup; projecting the kingdom in a more favourable light by hosting international sporting events; becoming a powerhouse in soccer-crazy Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation; and using the competition for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to bully Morocco into supporting the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led boycott of Qatar.
To be sure, with the exception of a cancelled tennis exhibition match in Jeddah between stars Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, most scheduled sporting events, including this season’s opening Formula E race in December and the Italian Supercoppa between Juventus and AC Milan in January, are going ahead as planned despite a six-week old crisis sparked by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
Yet, if last month’s friendly soccer match in Jeddah between Brazil and Argentina and this month’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Crown Jewel showpiece are anything to go by, major sporting events are doing little to polish the kingdom’s image tarnished not only by the Khashoggi killing but also the war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The sports events have so far failed to push Mr. Khashoggi and Yemen out of the headlines of major independent media.
Mainstream media coverage of Saudi sports has, moreover, focussed primarily on Saudi sports diplomacy’s struggle to make its mark internationally. One focus been the fact that Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer body FIFA, has run into opposition from the group’s European affiliate, UEFA, to his plan to endorse a US$25 billion plan for a new club tournament funded by the Saudi and UAE-backed Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.
If adopted, the plan would enhance Saudi and Emirati influence in global soccer governance to the potential detriment of Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and the UAE spearhead a 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar designed to force it to surrender its right to chart an independent course rather than align its policies with those of its Gulf brothers.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to engineer a situation in which Qatar is either deprived of its hosting rights or forced to share them with other states in the region, a possibility Mr. Infantino has said he was exploring.
Mr. Infantino has also said he was looking into implementing an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams already in 2022 rather than only in 2026. An expansion of the Qatari World Cup would probably involve including others in the Gulf as hosts of the tournament. Qatari officials have all but ruled out sharing their hosting rights.
Another media focus has been alleged Saudi piracy aimed at undermining Qatar-owned BeIN Corp, the world’s biggest sports rights holder, including the rights to broadcast last summer’s Russia World Cup in the Arab world.
Mr. Al-Qahtani reportedly played a key role in the sudden emergence of BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat that ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.
The piracy has sparked international lawsuits, including international arbitration in which BeIN is seeking US1 billion in damages from Saudi Arabia. The company has also filed a case with the World Trade Organization.
FIFA has said it has taken steps to prepare for legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have been affected to protect their interests.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s effort to create with funds widely believed to have been provided by Prince Mohammed an international Saudi sports portfolio that would project the kingdom as a regional power broker collapsed with fans, players and club executives in Egypt furious at the Saudi officials buying influence and using it to benefit Saudi rather than Egyptian clubs.
“No one, no one at all — with all due respect to Turki or no Turki … will be allowed to interfere in the club’s affairs,” said Mahmoud el-Khatib, chairman of Egyptian club Al Ahli SC, one of the Middle East’s most popular clubs with an estimated 50 million fans. Mr. Al-Sheikh had unsuccessfully tried to use his recently acquired honorary chairmanship of Al Ahli to take control of the club.
Al Ahli’s rejection of his power grab persuaded Mr. Al-Sheikh to resign in May and instead bankroll Al Ahli rival Pyramid FC. He invested US$33 million to acquire three top Brazilian players and launch a sports channel dedicated to the team.
The club’s fans, like their Al Ahli counterparts, nonetheless, denounced Mr. Al-Sheikh and the kingdom and insulted the Saudi official’s mother in crass terms during a match in September. Mr. Al-Sheikh decided to abandon his Egyptian adventure after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ignored his request to intervene. “Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day. Why the headache?” Mr Al-Sheikh said on Facebook.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s attempt to form a regional powerbase by creating a breakaway group of South Asian and Middle Eastern soccer federations beyond the confines of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) collapsed five months after the formation of the South-West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) when seven South Asian nations pulled out with immediate effect.
The collapse of SWAFF and Mr. Al-Sheikh’s withdrawal from Egypt were preceded by his backing of the US-Canadian-Mexican bid for the 2026 World Cup against Morocco after he failed to bully the North Africans into supporting the boycott of Qatar.
Adopting a Saudi Arabia First approach, Mr. Al-Sheikh noted that the United States “is our biggest and strongest ally.” He recalled that when the World Cup was played in 1994 in nine American cities, the US “was one of our favourites. The fans were numerous, and the Saudi team achieved good results.”
That was Mr. Al-Sheikh’s position six months ago. Today, men like Prince Mohammed and Messrs. Al-Sheikh and Al-Qahtani are seething. US President Donald J. Trump is proving to be an unreliable ally. Not only is he pressuring the kingdom to come up with a credible explanation for Mr. Khashoggis’ killing, Mr. Trump is also seemingly backtracking on his promise to bring Iran to its knees by imposing crippling economic sanctions.
Saudi distrust is fuelled by the fact that Mr. Trump first asked the kingdom to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran and then without informing it made a 180-degree turn by offering buyers generous waivers that keep Iranian crude in the market instead of drive exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero.
Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh, drew his pro-American definition of Saudi Arabia First from the crown prince’s focus on the United States. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh and other senior Saudi officials may be considering whether putting the kingdom’s eggs primarily in one basket remains the best strategy.
Whatever the case, Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sweep through regional and global sports has left Saudi leaders with little to leverage in the kingdom’s bid to pick up the pieces and improve its image tarnished first and foremost by Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but also by the trail the sports czar has left behind.
Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East
Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.
The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.
Conspicuous by their absence
Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.
The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.
An “island” of stability
Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.
Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.
Delicate peace in Beirut
Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.
In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.
External actors have key roles to play
Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.
If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.
Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.
Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.
The sanctions of a split
The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.
The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors. The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”
“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”
Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector, – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.
Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.
This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.
Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program, development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.
Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.
Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day. Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.
Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.
A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.
In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.
For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.
Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.
Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.
The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank). Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.
According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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