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White House eager to save Middle East peace process

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]bviously, Israel has tasted its first ever bitter pill from UNSC when it voted on December 23 to end the illegally built settlements, meant to oust the Palestinians and confiscate their lands. With the vote, time is indeed running out for Israeli regime to mend ways and try to become a normal nation by allowing the much delayed Palestine state to come into being. Israel needs to shed provocative terror schemes targeting Palestine and other Arab nations, and eventually become a democracy.

The US’ shocking and momentous abstention during a vote at the UN Security Council on Friday enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution 2334 on the December 23 since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy by a 14-0 vote. Israel has accused the Obama government of playing a part in formulating and pushing through the landmark measure.

Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu have played out their games but ultimately the former has the final say. Both have, since 2009, contributed to a chronic deterioration in US-Israel relations and the wider Middle East meltdown and Israel’s usual stubbornness has let to USA refusing to use its veto to shield their crimes this time. The process of polarization and mutual alienation culminated last Friday with Obama’s active connivance in the passing of a landmark UN Security Council resolution. The resolution condemned all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a flagrant violation of international law that imperiled a future two-state peace.

US-Israeli relations have reached their lowest point in decades. The government of the Israeli and PM Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Washington of conspiring against it when the UN Security Council vote on Friday the 23rd December demanded an end to settlement building in the West Bank.

USA pushes ahead with the resolution vote

The landmark vote came despite intense lobbying efforts by Israel and calls from US President-elect Donald Trump to block the text. Unhappy with Obama, Netanyahu is believed to be attempting to “recruit” to the incoming Trump team but the brakes on an attempted bid by the outgoing government to have the Security Council approve principles for a Palestinian state.. “They are spitting at us,” Netanyahu told colleagues, according to Channel 2. “We will respond forcefully.”

Netanyahu rejected the UNSC resolution as a “shameful blow against Israel,” repeated the Israeli claim that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were behind the resolution. Netanyahu told the media that Israel has “ironclad information” of the US government’s involvement in the resolution and even Trump is behind it. .

Clearly, America is struggling to reset its Israeli policy which has hitherto been decided by Israeli government. Possibly encouraged by President elect Trumps’ assertion for a new approach to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict and achieve two state solution by establishing the much delayed Palestine state to exist side by side with Israel as a legal entity, President Obama, by asking the US ambassador to UNSC to abstain from voting, supported the UNSC resolution to end illegal settlements inside Palestine.

Apparently, US Secretary of State John Kerry, following the UNSC vote, is preparing a document which will form the basis for final negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to be presented next month before President Barack Obama leaves office on 20th January. John Kerry is laying out a US framework for an Palestinian-Israeli agreement as the Obama government and its international allies scramble to protect what is left of the peace process before Donald Trump takes office. The document will outline the establishment of a future Palestinian state according to the internationally recognized 1967 borders (Arab Peace pan 2002) , with land-swaps leaving approximately 75 to 80 percent of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank under the sovereignty of Israel- a proposition that won’t be accepted by the Palestinians. The principles will probably set out requirements for US recognition of Palestine and Israeli recognition of Palestine and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, and Israel’s required recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Kerry speech at the state department is expected to restate the Obama government’s continued faith in a two-state solution to the chronic impasse. It is a parting shot after eight years in office, during which there has been a dearth of diplomatic progress. It is not expected to lead to any new initiative but rather lay down a marker on a longstanding US and international approach to the region before the US president-elect, whose commitment to such a solution is in doubt, assumes office. “What secretary Kerry will be doing is he will give a speech in which he lays out a comprehensive vision for how we see the conflict being resolved – where we see things in 2016 as we unfortunately conclude our term in office without there being significant progress toward peace, the deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told Israel’s Channel 2 television. On the same day as the Kerry speech, Jerusalem authorities are expected to discuss the issue of more than 600 building permits for settlements in historically Palestinian east Jerusalem and have raised the possibility of issuing about 5,000 more.

The parameters outlined by Kerry are expected to draw international endorsement at a meeting of foreign ministers on 15 January, just five days before Trump moves into the White House. The meeting is supposed to reinforce a strategy of isolating Netanyahu in the hope it will push him towards reviving stalled negotiations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has said his government will not attend.

Israel responded furiously to the UN Security Council resolution passed on Friday that demanded an end to settlement building, threatening diplomatic reprisals against the countries that voted in favor. Israel feels now fully exposed and isolated internationally. The Israeli government is reportedly fearful that any guidelines agreed in Paris would be turned into another UN resolution before Trump’s inauguration, and it has ratcheted up its rhetoric, presenting itself as the victim of an international conspiracy. Meanwhile, Israel’s military minister, a prominent illegal settler leader in the government Avigdor Lieberman, portrayed the Paris conference as a new “Dreyfus trial”, referring to an outburst of French anti-Semitism more than a century ago, and urged French Jews to move to Israel.

A French official denied there was any intention to pass a new Security Council resolution on the basis of the Paris conference. A foreign ministry spokesperson said the meeting would “give the participants an opportunity to present a comprehensive incentive package to encourage the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Only they will be able to conclude a peace deal directly.”

In excessive expectation of a more supportive government in Washington next month, Netanyahu has reacted to the diplomatic maneuvering in the last weeks of Obama’s term with defiance. Netanyahu has vowed to resist a peace framework imposed on his government, and observers warn that a threatened Israeli backlash in the form of thousands of new settler homes in east Jerusalem, combined with Trump’s plan to move the US embassy to the disputed city, could trigger a fresh wave of violence.

Netanyahu claimed to have “ironclad evidence” that the Obama government had plotted behind the scenes to promote the UN resolution. Israel has said it will present evidence against the Obama government to the incoming Trump team and ask Trump to just abide by the mutual understanding in terror operations and help Israel retain all illegal settlements in Palestine.

Egyptian media published a document purporting to be a transcript of a meeting in which Kerry and the US national security adviser, Susan Rice, discussed the UN resolution and US proposals with Palestinian officials, who agreed to give the Kerry framework immediate support.

In order to appease the Jewish community in USA and Israel, Trump criticised Friday’s UN resolution, saying it would make it harder to negotiate a peace agreement. He described the UN as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” but has not dwelt about how the UN as well as US veto has been misused by USA and Israel all these years. Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel, his own bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, has actively supported settlement building.

If the highly emotive issue of Jerusalem’s status became the focal point of Israeli-Palestinian friction once more, then the prospects for a serious, significant confrontation are high. Trump knows it.

The US withdrawal from Iraq left a political vacuum in Baghdad that Iran and its Shia allies filled. Then, in partial reaction, came the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State which ensured the US support . The Arab spring revolts of 2011 left Washington nonplussed. In Egypt it fretted over the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and welcomed his eventual replacement by another pro-American military dictator. In Syria, Obama prematurely anticipated the demise of Bashar al-Assad, only to back away when the going got tough, letting in the Russians and the Iranians (again) and squandering US leverage.

The UN resolution could save the government from itself by bringing closer an end to forceful and illegal settlement construction inside Palestine. The passage of the resolution won’t result in the immediate dismantling of any West Bank settlements, but the world is beginning to come to the rescue and try to save Palestinians from Israel military and Israel from itself.

What makes this particular resolution important?

Palestinian leaders hope the UN resolution 2334 and the Paris conference will offer some degree of international protection against the encroachment of settlements in the Trump era. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he hoped the Paris meeting would establish an international mechanism to end Israeli settlement building once for all and start the work on the promised Palestine state.

It is the first decisive and clear condemnation of Israel by the UN Security Council in nearly eight years — almost the entirety of President Barack Obama’s terms in office. The vote was cast despite extraordinary Israeli pressure on the current US administration, on the forthcoming administration of Donald Trump and successful pressure on Egyptian President Abdul Fatah Al Sisi.

For the first time in history, the USA neither vetoed the resolution nor threatened to use its veto power; nor did it even seriously lobby among the world powers, big and small, as it often does, to defeat the resolution. In fact, Egypt delayed the vote, which was scheduled a day earlier, so New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela stepped up and put the resolution to a vote, a day later.

Though the UN resolution remains rather symbolic as long as there are no practical mechanisms to ensure the enforcement of international law, the vote is historic and a major step towards the freedom and independent state.

Not only Israel does not respect the United Nations’ will, it is, in fact, already accelerating its settlement activities in the Jerusalem area, in defiance of that will. The Jerusalem Municipality announced that 300 housing units will be built in the illegal settlements of Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Bit Hanina, while the Security Council members were preparing for the vote on the “legal invalidity” of the Jewish settlements. Obviously for the Palestine, the vote is a major achievement

The UN resolution was, indeed, keen on ensuring that the Palestine state comes into being as part of the two-state illusion is further perpetuated, which is all that the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas needs to continue to push for an unattainable mirage. With all this in mind, there is a lesson, and a valuable one, that must be registered at this moment: without US backing, Israel, with all its might, is quite vulnerable and isolated in the international arena.

The outcome of the vote was quite telling: 14 Security Council members voted yes, while the US abstained, making vote possible. The vote was followed by a rare scene at such meetings: sustained applause, with countries that hardly agree on much agreeing wholeheartedly with the justness of Palestinian aspirations and the rejection of Israeli practices.

The relentless efforts by Israel and the US to intimidate coerce and as usual bribe UN members, so as to sideline the international community from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has failed utterly. All it took was a mere US abstention from the vote to expose the still solid international consensus regarding Israel’s illegal actions in Palestine.

In an emblematic sign of hope, the vote brings to a close the year 2016, which has been harsh for Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians, mainly civilians and children, were killed during this year in clashes in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza; hundreds of houses were partly or wholly demolished and damaged; thousands of hectares of land were confiscated by Israel, and countless olive trees cut.

The next year could promise the Palestinians new horizons in their struggle for freedom and sovereignty, depending on humanitarian concerns of the new US administration under Trump though his language is confused to suggest that the US support of Israel will remain steadfast. The appointment of pro-settlement hardliner David Friedman as the new US ambassador to Israel carries with it terrifying prospects. One is not sure if Trump is indeed an insane Zionist like Madam Hillary Clinton has been. Friedman and his ilk have no regard for international law and no respect for US current foreign policy regarding the Israeli occupation and the illegality of the settlements (considered an “obstacle to peace” under various administrations), and is eager to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

All of this is quite ominous, and the freshly passed resolution should not advance the illusion that things are changing. Of course things can change only if follow-up actions are forthcoming form UNSC and ICC. Criminals cannot be given choices to change the world, they should only be punished for their crimes against humanity.

Nonetheless, there is hope. The resolution is a further affirmation that the international community is unconditionally on the side of Palestinians and, despite all the failures of the past, still advocates respect for international law. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is moving from strength to strength, galvanizing civil societies, campuses and trade unions all over the world to take a stance against the Israeli occupation.

In 2009, Netanyahu, newly re-elected, described his “vision” of a historic peace, “of two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence”. Although he appeared to renege during last year’s election campaign, Netanyahu still claims to support a two-state solution. Now the international community’s message is unequivocal: you were right in 2009. So stop undermining the prospect of peace. Honor your promise.

Palestinians, now unite!

As the UNSC is making strenuous efforts to punish Israel for its crimes against humanity and for the proliferation of illegal settlements in Palestine, there has been world cry requesting US President Obama to recognize Palestine before he goes out of office. For different but related reasons, Jimmy Carter made a similar plea last month.

Israel can be blamed for much of problems the Palestinians face, but Palestinians deserve much of the blame, too, for their disunity, infighting and corruption. They must not expect their efforts, however sincere, to yield freedom and liberation when they are incapable of forming a united front. This should be done by overhauling the Palestine Liberation Organization and bringing all Palestinian factions under one single platform that caters to the aspirations of all Palestinians, at home and in Diaspora.

The Palestinian leadership needs to understand that the age of ineffectual American leadership is over. No more lip service to peace and handouts to the PA, while bankrolling the Israeli military and backing Israel politically. The next administration is pro-Israel, absolutely. This may be the clarity Palestinians need to understand that pleading for American compassion will not suffice. If a united Palestinian leadership does not seize the opportunity and regain the initiative in 2017, all Palestinians will suffer. It is time to move away from Washington and embrace the rest of the world.

One of the arguments often heard is that Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state if it annexes all of the West Bank, since it will ultimately acquire 4 million Palestinians (West Bank & Gaza residents) as citizens in that case.

Israel does not have a Jewish majority even by accelerated births as Hindus in India have been busy doing.

The USA in 1789 was mostly British and had a population of 4 million. Now it is 8 times as big, and has large Italian, Latino, German, African, Muslims three million Jewish and Irish populations. All those groups have brought gifts to enrich the nation. In an age of globalization, trying artificially to maintain one ethnic group as a majority is probably a fool’s errand, anyway. Israel is importing Thai agricultural workers and initially was welcoming African refugees..

So what is called a “one-state” solution is a farce but as long as all the citizens of that one state has equal rights and it was a genuine democracy people would be happy. .

It would be fairly easy to set up two states, Palestine and Israel, since the basic framework of the two states already exists. It is entirely possible that the Israeli squatters on Palestinian land, as their usual practice in the West Bank will at some point engineer a civil war, and try to expel the Palestinians, making them stateless refugees all over again.

What is wrong with the present arrangement is that the Palestinians do not have citizenship in a real state. Israel state controls the water, air and land of Palestine territory. The Palestine Authority controls none of those things. In fact nothing, not even the taxes. A state needs a judicial system that can protect the basic property and human rights of a citizen. Palestine has none of those things. Important cases are kicked to the Israeli judiciary, which, like police stations and military units, tends to rule in favor of Israelis. And, a lot of decisions are made for Palestinians by the Israeli army or by colonial administrators.

People, who are stateless, in the phrase of Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, do not have the right to have rights. It is unacceptable that millions of Palestinians should be kept stateless at the insistence of Israel. PM B. Netanyahu has even vowed that he will not allow a Palestinian state as long as he is in power or alive (a violation of the Oslo Peace Accords).

The reason that all these decades of negotiations have proved fruitless is that the Palestinians, as stateless, don’t really have standing to negotiate. You can renege on agreements with stateless people at will, as Netanyahu has repeatedly done, without fearing any consequences and without the stateless having recourse. So you can’t start with negotiations. You have to start by addressing Palestinians’ lack of citizenship.

The government in Germany stripped the Jews of their citizenship, in preparation for committing a Holocaust against them or driving them out of their homes as refugees. Jews are doing the same with Palestinians now. The Nazis understood very well that you can do with Stateless people what you will, and that no one will effectively so much as object. For the Zionist right wing, Israel comes as a solution to the problem that Jews are always in danger of losing their citizenship rights when they are citizens of other states. Moreover, in a nuclear-armed world, the idea that a state can protect you from another holocaust is a false messiah; ask the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In any case, solving the artificially created problem of Jewish statelessness cannot come at the price of creating Palestinian statelessness.

The chair of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Saeb Erekat, said that the Palestinian leadership was invigorated by the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. As a result, it would redouble its efforts to achieve full membership in the UN for the State of Palestine. The Palestinians would take their case to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, charging Israeli officials with various crimes against the international law of occupation, chief among them flooding their own citizens as colonizers into the Occupied Territory. Erekat recognizes that the Palestinian cause will go nowhere until Palestine has some of the perquisites of a state, such as UN membership and ability to take cases to the International Criminal Court.

Just as he established diplomatic relations with Cuba, so President Obama could do the same with regard to Palestine. It would be one step toward resolving the decades-old problem of Palestinian statelessness.

Observation: welcome sovereign Palestine!

The historic US abstention from voting on ending illegal settlements from Palestine territories and UN vote are not lacking in significance. But Netanyahu’s smug suggestion that he need only wait for the advent of a Donald Trump presidency is misleading. It is likely Trump may give him a sympathetic hearing. But he already committed himself to peaceful solution to the vexed issue in and establishes Palestine state to exist along with Israel. He may not even move the US embassy to Jerusalem as that would be a gratuitously inflammatory gesture. US Jews still hopes they can arm-twist Trump as well.

This was the world telling Netanyahu, with one voice, that the expanded settlement policy he has encouraged and justified is wrong – wrong legally, wrong morally, wrong politically, and wrong in terms of Israel’s future peace and security. The odd thing is, he knows this.

There is no doubt that the UN Security Council condemnation of Israel on December 23 was an important and noteworthy event as it readily paved the way for the creation of Palestine after a long struggle. True, the United Nations’ main chambers (the Security Council and the General Assembly) and its various institutions, ranging from the International Court of Justice to the UN cultural agency UNESCO, have repeatedly condemned the Israeli occupation, illegal Jewish settlements and mistreatment of Palestinians.

Today there are at least 430,000 Jewish settlers currently living in the West Bank or the 200,000 in east Jerusalem which would be the capital of Palestine. .But Israel feels upbeat that Resolution 2334 is unenforceable and cannot dismantle the structures or evict the criminal Jews form Palestine territories and this can be done only with NATO help. Israel says nobody can force Israel to embrace John Kerry’s recycled ideas about a two-state solution, although the US secretary of state is expected to spell them out one more time before he leaves office next month.

Resolution 2334 joins UN resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) in the theoretical, consistently bypassed legal canon of the Israel-Palestine issue. It says what should happen. It does not say how.

There are up to 196 illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to hundreds of settler outposts. These settlements house up to 600,000 Jewish settlers who were moved there in violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel must respect the opinion of international community in favor of establishing the much delayed Palestine state as they voted to end the settlements in Palestine. Israel needs to accept the pro-peace option now available for it to save its spoiled face and come forward for final peace talks and accept the Arab Peace plan to resolve the conflict once for all.

Unlike the December 23 UNSC Resolution 2334, past UN condemnations were far stronger; some resolutions did not ask just for an immediate halt of illegal settlement construction, but for the removal of existing settlements as well.

Arabs will assure Israel of not attack Israel or force Jews to resettle themselves in Europe or convert to Islam or Christianity for that matter. Palestinians will ensure that no more toy missiles would be fired into vacant spaces in Israel.

Israel now being isolated by its close ally USA, must recognize International Law and dismantle all illegal structures inside Palestine.

Although insecurity, aggression and paranoia are their shared characteristic, Trump would like to make decisions independent of Israel or US Jewish community that hitherto decided the policies of USA. Moreover, Trump administration cannot simply reverse the stated will of the UN Security Council – backed in this case by permanent members China, Russia, France and Britain; not will unilaterally scrap last year’s multinational nuclear deal with Iran. These are policy decisions of USA and not Israel

The resolution 2334 will accelerate existing moves to prosecute Israel at the international criminal court. The UN vote has highlighted the extraordinary extent of Israel’s international isolation under Netanyahu. Even he cannot persuasively dismiss the unanimous opinion of countries as diverse as Japan, Ukraine, Malaysia, Venezuela, Angola and Spain. It takes a lot to make an enemy of New Zealand, but Netanyahu has managed it.

Obama has not been much help. He, too, made a big speech in 2009, shortly after taking office, pledging a “new beginning” for the Middle East. But he could not do anything as his foreign minister Hillary Clinton supported Israeli regime and its criminal operations and his actions led to ME regional disintegration and growing American detachment.

Israel is annoyed, nervous and feels isolated for its arrogant posture on Palestine. But as usual Israeli leadership wants to put up a brave face. “We will do all it takes so Israel emerges unscathed from this shameful decision,” Netanyahu said. Now many in Israel also talk about “betrayal” by USA and many Jews feel USA should not have propped up a fascist regime in the first place with full military backing from the Western powers. Interestingly, Israel receives huge sums from abroad as aid but now it cuts aid to small countries. Not only Israel barked at USA, but Israel has also withdrawn its ambassadors from two of the countries that supported the resolution, New Zealand and Senegal, and cut aid assistance to the latter. Planned diplomatic exchanges have been cancelled, future Israeli cooperation with UN agencies placed under urgent review, and civilian coordination with the Palestinian Authority suspended.

Obama realized that pressurizing the risk-averse Netanyahu into peace talks with the Palestinians is useless, especially when Israel’s Arab neighbors fell prey to civil disorder and Islamist insurrection supported by USA, Israel and EU. Obama did not push nearly hard enough for peace in both terms when the regional climate might have allowed it. In 2011, he vetoed a similar UN resolution, arguing US-brokered talks would find a way forward. Cautious to the end, even Obama’s UN demarche on Friday was half-hearted. If he really believes settlements are undermining peace, why abstain? Why not go the whole hog and vote to condemn them?

Obama’s Middle East legacy is not one to be proud of. But his final axe on ending Israeli illegal settlements at UNSC has earned him the name he missed for 2 terms. Only now Obama knew how criminal minded Israeli leadership is and the defeat of his Democratic candidate Hillary has eye opened him to realize his presidential duties towards humanity. .

Future of Palestinians looks promising as the UNSC can impose sanctions on Israel if it refuses to respect the resolutions to end Israeli expanding settlements on occupied land and possibly annexations, as mooted by Netanyahu’s rightwing allies.

President Obama has to make all recent decisions on Palestine tenable in future so that the Neocons and other promoters of Israeli fanatic fascism won’t be able to arm-twist politically novice Trump.

While the rights of Palestinians do not register in the slightest in the radar of US foreign policy interest (which sees its alliance with strong Israel as far more important than the needs of disjointed and confused capitalist Arab countries), Palestinians can still forge a new strategy that is predicated.

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China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

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Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

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