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The Palestinians Fabrications Concerning Jerusalem: What the Islamic Scriptures and Islamic History Instruct Us (A)

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The Palestinian Narrative Regarding Jerusalem

From the Oslo Agreement in 1993, Arafat realized that “Jerusalem” has to be the focal of the Palestinian Authority’s claims together with the “the occupation” slogan. Since, the Palestinian Authority has initiated an unprecedented campaign of historical revision and anti-Israel libels concerning Jerusalem. The aim of this strategy is being the erasure and denial of 3,000 years of Jewish history in Jerusalem to replace it as it was theirs.

On October 6, 2002, Arafat signed the “Jerusalem Law,” which states that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and emphasized complete Palestinian sovereignty over the city, including sovereignty over all of its holy places. Moreover, any agreement or law that contradicts this law and is concluded by any party whatsoever, would be considered null and void. The Jerusalem Law could only be amended by a majority vote of two-thirds of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The Palestinian propagation indicates that Jerusalem carries a unique and total sanctity for Islam and the Palestinians in particular. It is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine solely, and the Jews have absolutely no connection and no rights to it. Jerusalem is presented as an exclusively Muslim city and any Jewish life in Jerusalem is labeled as “Judaization.”

Indeed, they reach the highest fabrication and falsification ever by disregarding science, history and archeology. Even the past existence of the existence and all what is written in the Old and New Testaments is being denied. In their narrative, the entire al-Aqşā mosque, in fact the entire territory has always been through all history a purely Islamic property from the beginning of history, while Israel acts to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and to reestablish its fake Temple (al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm).

The Palestinian leadership’s declarations are pronounced thousands of times every year on the political, religious, educational and the communication outlets. It is as if they believe that he who reiterate his propagation more and more – is victorious.

These are uttered by the political leadership from Arafat and Abu Māzen (Mahmoud Abbās), through the religious leadership from Taysīr al-Tamīmī and Mahmoud al-abbāsh, and by the Palestinian ministers and political elite.

Herewith are quotations presented among the huge amount that exhibit and expose the Palestinian state of affairs concerning Jerusalem. It is worthwhile to state that as the Palestinian “Independence Day” was initiated from 1998, the chief onslaught to introduce the Jerusalem campaign has its peak from 2008 on.

Yasser Arafat’s uncompromising position on Jerusalem was presented to President Clinton, at Camp David talks:

The Palestinian demand for sovereignty over Jerusalem is not limited to the mosques on the Temple Mount and the Armenian quarter. It applies to the entire city. All of it. All of it. All of it. Palestinian peace is the peace of al-Aqṣā … Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine… We will redeem Jerusalem with our spirits and our blood. If we give up on Jerusalem, the entire Palestinian regime and political establishment will collapse. I will not betray my people. I will not sell Jerusalem. We demand full sovereignty over Jerusalem… This is not just the task of the Palestinian people. It must be advanced by the Arabs, the Muslims and the Christians.

In the resumption of the Intifada campaign, Arafat declared:

The Palestinian caravan is on its way to the first Qiblah and the third Haram, the place where our Prophet Muhammad descended to the sky. Noble Jerusalem, the Capital of the Palestinian State. We are at the center of world and Islamic campaign against Zionism and the imperialist aggressors.

Mahmoud Abbās (Abu Māzen), the Palestinian Authority Chairman is more extremist concerning his attitude of Jerusalem. For him, the Palestinian People was appointed by the entire Islamic Nation to be the guardian of Islam’s sacred property in Jerusalem. Abbas expresses the absolutist and uncompromising demand of the Palestinians to the effect that Jerusalem is entirely their property.

For example, in 2011 and 2012 he used the phrase “al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm” the fake Temple, more than 100 times. For him, the Palestinians are a nation entrusted by the entire Muslim world over the Islamic holy sites and there will be no concessions in Jerusalem. Therefore, bringing Jerusalem back to the hands of the Palestinians is Fard Ayn, a compulsory Jihad war on all the Muslims. Accordingly, his following declaration stormed and ignited “the Intifādah of Stones and Knives,” from October 2015.

We are in Jerusalem, and we will remain in it. We will continue to cling to every inch of its land…. We honor and salute the Murābitīn [those carrying out and fighting in the front, to protect the Islamic land]… We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah. Every Shahīd will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah… Jews are filth, they desecrate and defile Jerusalem… We won’t allow Jews’ filthy feet on our sacred sites… al-Aqṣā is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem…. The Palestinians must prevent the Jews from entering the Sanctuary. This is our Sanctuary.

Here are few selections of his attitude of Jerusalem. These declaration represent, in fact constitute the basis of the Palestinians lies and fabrications.

Israel ultimately aim to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and build their alleged fake Temple… take over the Muslim holy sites, and destroy its institutions in order to empty it, uproot its residents, and continue its occupation and Judaization… There will be no peace and security unless the occupation will be evacuated from our holy city, the eternal capital of our state.

The Jews’ so-called Temple is nothing but legends and myths, and greatest crime and forgery in history. Jerusalem’s Jewish history is delusional myths. They are continuing their attempt to change Jerusalem… They imagine that by brute force they can invent a Jewish history. The story of the Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths… In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of al-Aqṣā and establish their so-called Temple – the greatest crime and forgery in history. Israel’s claim to al-Aqṣā is “empty and false… This is a falsification of the history.

We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims that the Jews have a historical right dating back to 3000 years B.C.E., we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history. This is the truth, which must be understood, in order to say: you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.

Mahmoud Abbās’ speech in the “Jerusalem Conference” in Qatar:

Israel… uproots Palestinian history and culture in Jerusalem for thousands of years… Israel is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, to rid the city of religious and cultural structures, symbols and values… robbing Palestinians’ historical and religious character.

Mahmoud Abbās’ words at the International Conference for the Support of Jerusalem, organized by the UN, in Ankara, on May 12, 2014:

Palestinian presence in Jerusalem is dated 5000 years old. The Palestinians are the only permanent element in Jerusalem, while the others came and went. Israel threatens the city’s Islamic-Palestinian identity. Its grave dangers threaten Jerusalem…

Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories and preacher at al-Aqṣā Mosque [the Jewish Temple Mount]

The Jews say that this place was once the site of their temple. The truth is that there was never any Jewish temple during that entire period, and there was no prayer area there for Jews. Israel is threatening to destroy al-Aqṣā mosque in order to build its imaginary temple on its ruins. The esplanades of al-Aqṣā mosque, its walls and its structures are an Islamic endowment until the judgment day. Only Muslims hold the exclusive right to this place.

Sheikh Yusuf Idā’is, PA Minister of Religious Affairs,

Jerusalem and the al-Aqṣā Mosque belongs only to the Muslims, no matter how many forgeries and fabrications the occupation state makes. Muhammad’s night journey and ascent to heaven emphasize the Arab nature of Jerusalem and its Palestinian nature. The Arab and Islamic nations must defend al-Aqṣā Mosque, stand determinedly against settlers’ invasions to Judaize al-Aqṣā and defile it with Talmudic-Jewish ceremonies.

The following are selection of declarations and claims that appeared on Fatah television during three months alone as follows:

There was never a Jewish Temple in our Jerusalem. This is a legend and a myth invented by the Zionists to legitimize the Israeli imperialist occupation. Jerusalem was built by the Jebusite Arabs. Malchitzedek, the Arab king, built it six thousand years ago, and originally called it Yabus. There never was a glorious city so close to Allah’s kingdom as Jerusalem, and its inhabitants were originally Arabs. Its sanctity was shaped by Islam, beginning with ‘Umar Bin al-Khattāb, who captured the city from the Christian infidels… Israel will disappear from the map, like a chapter of history’s falsified pages. The Jews do not even have one stone in Jerusalem. Since time immemorial, there was only al-Aqṣā and there are no remnants of the so-called temple.

What the Jews are doing by digging in Jerusalem is a crime unprecedented in human history. It is an attempt to forge history. The Zionists produce stones with signs of their supposed “temple”. They move authentic Muslim stones and bring others instead, passing them off as Jewish stones. They even bring dead bodies from outside, as their ancestors. All of this is done to Judaize occupied Jerusalem, in order to substantiate the myth and legend that al-Aqṣā is where their temple stood.

Israel forges well-known historical facts taken from Palestinian heritage and ties them to a falsified Jewish history that is utterly absent from our land. Their so-called Temple is an attempt to rob Palestinian heritage, and Israel doesn’t have any history of its own.

Saeb Erekat, “I am the son of Jericho… the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.

According to Palestinians even the Jewish oath that reads “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its purpose” (Psalms 137:5) was authored by a Crusader king and stolen by “Zionists” for political purposes. However, though the Palestinian Authority denied the Jewish oath regarding Jerusalem, it decided to create a similar oath as a popular indoctrination: “Let my right hand forget me, let my left hand forget me. Let the light of the eye and the sighs of the songs forget me… if I forget Jerusalem”. Every so often groups of children appear on Palestinian TV chanting “I swear by the tears of the child…in the name of the youth, Jerusalem will return to us… We will free every centimeter [of the city] from the hands of the infidel.”

The al-Aqsa Foundation statements are summarized as follows:

Those who founded Jerusalem were the Jebusite and Canaanite Palestinians, and they inhabited it in the fifth millennium BC. The holy city did not carry any Hebrew name in history, and the Hebrew language did not exist there or anywhere else, it was Aramaic. There was no Temple in Jerusalem… the tribe of Israel is a Yemenite Arab tribe that has passed from the world.

Our Jerusalem was never the capital of a thing called ‘Israel,’ not of the previous and not of the present entity. Jews have no connection to this land, not 3,000 years ago, and not 100 years ago. Israel has no genetic, anthropologic, national, or historical connection to the biblical Arab Yemenite tribe that is now extinct.

Salwa abīb, Deputy Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

The Palestinian people has been present in Jerusalem for thousands of years, whether it was in Babylon, Assyria or Canaan, the Palestinians gathered in the area before anything else, centuries before the Jewish religion… They are stealing history and geography.

Bahjat abāshneh, a Palestinian lecturer

There is no text, not in the Talmud and not in Jewish Bible that gives holiness to Jerusalem. The source of the sanctity and purity of Jerusalem, and the existence of a mosque in it are only in the Islamic texts.

Appraisal of Palestinian’s Narrative Concerning the Jews and Jerusalem

Comparing the Palestinians’ declarations to Islamic Scriptures and classical exegetes reveals the huge ocean-deep difference that brings to attention how the Palestinians not only distort and twist history but also invent a totally new fabricated history. Moreover, with their detached from reality propaganda they falsify and twist attested facts of history and science.

As typical of Arab-Islamic culture, the totality of the Palestinian’s demands is that no other religion has any significance in Jerusalem because everything there belongs to Islam. That view is accompanied by all-encompassing practical implications, namely the claim to total control of the entire area and utter rejection of all others claims to, or connection with, Jerusalem. Everything found in that area is the possession of Islam and theirs, for which they require no scientific and archaeological confirmation or evidence. Therefore, no other political-religious entity needs acquiesce to that claim. It belongs to them because they said so, without the need of scientific proofs, and if one disagrees, their reaction is murderous violence. That typically “totalistic” view is singularly applicable in the case of Jerusalem.

Dennis Ross, chief American negotiator, accounts the Camp David Summit of July 2000, and attributes much of its failure to Yasser Arafat, who not only repeated “old mythologies” but invented “a new one … [that] the Temple did not exist in Jerusalem but in Nablus.”

Palestinians’ outrageous statements and fabrication invented to promote false political agenda are part of ongoing efforts to negate Israel’s deep ties to Jerusalem, to challenge an essential element of the Jewish faith, to twist historical truths and facts, and to replace Jewish historical rights by their own.

For example, they should have known that “Jerusalem” is mentioned in the Jewish Bible 669 times and “Zion” appears 154 times, a total of 823 references. The Temple Mount (Hebrew: Har Habayit), is identified as the area of Mount Moriyah where Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice, and where the First and Second Jewish Temples were established. They are even mentioned in the Qur’an (17:2-8).

Arafat should have known that the pagan town of Nablus (the Arabic pronunciation of the Greek “Neapolis”) was founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian several years after his victory over the Jews and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Therefore, the Jewish Temple sanctuaries could not be in Nablus. This is another fabrication from the Palestinian’s imaginative creation.

Another indication is that “Jerusalem” as an important political-religious aim was also not mentioned by Yasser Arafat’s Fath, (arakat Tahrīr Filastīn) established in October 1959, nor by Ahmad Shuqeiry’s Palestinian National Organization (Munazzamat at-Tahrīr al-Filastīnīyah) established in May 1964. In its original Covenant from 1964, there is no mentioning of Jerusalem whatsoever. Only in its amended Covenant from 1968 there was a slight change. However, only in the middle of the 1990’s Arafat “recalled” on Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Unfortunately the Palestinians efforts have succeeded, as the world is mired with politics and not with historical and scientific truth. The United Nations, the organization that is supposed to keep peace in the world, is now deadly controlled by the Islamic states under the title of Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which passes disgraceful and despicable imagined resolutions against Israel.

On October 20, 2015, the Palestinians, backed by six Arab states, succeeded in erasing the historical connection between Jews and the Jewish Temple Mount by UNESCO to list the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron; Rachel Tomb in Bethlehem are merely Muslim sites. The executive board of UNESCO adopted a resolution on April 15, 2016, that ignores the historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The final resolution of October 13, 2016, refers to the entire Jewish Temple Mount area as the al-Aqṣā Mosque, the Islamic aram ash-Sharīf, the Noble Sanctuary. This is scandalous, appalling and deplorable; but this is the face of the UN=Islamic Nations.

The Palestinian onslaught to deny the connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, is part of a large strategy of Islamic appropriation of the Biblical Jewish past. Professor Jacob Lassner, Claims the “… the Muslim response to the Jews and Judaism stemmed from an intense competition to occupy the center of a stage held sacred by both faiths. The story of the Jews was a history that Muslims appropriated in the Qur’an, its commentaries and other Islamic texts.” The Palestinian version of the history of Jerusalem belongs to this category as well.

The best way to approach this refutations is precisely by analyzing ancient and medieval Christian sources, modern scholarship and archeological excavations. The references to Jerusalem in classical texts increase our knowledge of Jews and Judaism in the ancient world and demonstrate their historical attachment. Professor Lee Levine research brings excellent historical and archeological sources which clearly demonstrate the Jewish character of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. Professor Eilat Mazar shows the amount of rich archaeological sources of the Temple Mount excavations and Jewish life in ancient times.

The ancient Greeks probably were the first to record information about the culture and political life of the Jews. Levine summarizes with huge evidence the varied reactions of Jews to the impact of Hellenism and the significance of Hellenization in Jewish history of the Second Temple and Talmudic periods. Professor Martin Goodman brings documents and huge evidence to the Greek and Roman attitudes to Jews and Judaism. One can analyze the issue from the negative side, the deep animosity of the Greek and Roman empires to the Jews.

The distinguished Professor Bernard Lewis notes that the Roman rulers renamed Judea “Syria-Palaestina” and Jerusalem as “Aelia Capitolina” in 137 CE, in order to “stamp out the embers not only of the Bar Kokhba revolt but of Jewish nationhood and statehood…” with the aim “of obliterating its historic Jewish identity.” Professor Peter Schaefer summarizes the issue: the animosity towards the Jews in the Land of Israel strongly proves the powerful presence of the Jews and their existence in the Land of Israel.

Indeed, from this short list of scientific historical and archaeological evidence from which one can clearly understand how the claims of the Palestinians, without any scientific corroboration, are ridiculous, detached from reality and based on mere lies and fabrications. More important, they also expose two big lies of the Palestinians: 1) the Islamic attitude towards the Jews; and 2) the Islamic relationships concerning Jerusalem.

To be followed.

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The Causes and Effects of the United States “Long Goodbye” to the Middle East

Lawrence Habahbeh

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A glance at a world map reveals one great reason why the Middle East (ME) claims the attention of great power centres of the world.  A roughly rectangular area stretching from the Adriatic Sea, East to the black sea ,and south to the Indus River.   The ME is a joining point of three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa and one of the most vital crossroads on the planet.   It is the cradle of world civilization and the birth place of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.    Further, it is rich in oil, gas, and other commodities.   According to British Petroleum 2019 (BP) Statistical review of World Energy, the Middle East holds 836 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which constitutes 48% of world total.   In comparison to other regions of the world, it holds 3X the proven oil reserves of the U.S, Canada and Mexico combined, and 58X the proven oil reserves of Europe.   Likewise, the Middle East has the world’s largest proven reserves of Natural Gas (NG); standing at 38.3% of the world’s total, while the Common wealth of Independent States (CIS) holds the second largest reserves at 31.9%.

Historically, the strategic foundation for the U.S. involvement in the Middle East was shaped by several policy objectives reflecting both regional dynamics and U.S. interests.  These strategic interests centred primarily around protecting the reliable free flow of commodities and commercial activity through well known checkpoints in the Arabian Peninsula, especially the strait of Hormoz and Suez canal; supporting the security, stability, and prosperity of U.S. partners in the region, including the State of Israel; preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering Jihadist movements, and terrorism.  Since 2011, geopolitical tensions, trade disputes, and changes in the international security landscape have tested the US-ME relationship, and have caused the strategic pillars of the U.S. Involvement in the region to undergo a state of transition, hastened by three major factors: 

First; In a speech by former Secretary of Defence James Mattes at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, January 19, 2018, he asserted” Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”.  Further, according to President Obama’s June 2015 National Military Strategy and also President Trump’s January 2018 National Defence Strategy  (NDS), they both acknowledged that the shift in U.S. strategic direction is driven by a return to great power competition with China and Russia, underlined by a rising trend in strategic cooperation between two countries on many issues across many regions of the world, In fact; this strategic cooperation can be seen taking shape in the economic and military spheres.  For example, according to various press reports, in September of 2019, Chinese and Russian troops took part in joint military manoeuvres; dubbed, “Tsentr-2019” to strengthen their military readiness.  Further, direct trade between the two countries is increasing.  According to data from statista, trade between Russia and China reached a record level, exceeding $100 billion compared to previous years.  Likewise, China’s natural gas imports from Russia more than doubled in 2019 subsequent to operating the “Power of Siberia”  gas pipeline with a total initial capacity of 5 Billion Cubic meters (BCM) of gas, and a targeted capacity of 38 BCM by 2025, which constitutes 13% of China’s 2018 demand.  Equally important; China’s expanding major economic development project, the Belt and Road (BRI) initiative.  The BRI initiative is an ambitious plan to build an open and balanced regional economic architecture connecting dozens of countries in Asia, Eurasia, and Europe by constructing six international economic corridors and an extensive rail network linking China to Europe through a “new Eurasian Land Bridge”.  In the same way, the project aims to construct economic corridors linking China, Mongolia, and Russia; also, China to west, central, and South Asia. 

The evolving dynamics of economic corridors connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe, and Africa is consistent with the ideas of the Eurasianist Aleksandr  Dugin’s, and the ideas advanced in his book published in 1997 titled “Foundations of Geopolitics”, in which he calls for the realization of a Unified Economic Landscape called Greater Eurasia.  Greater Eurasia refers to countries that are on the territory of the Eurasian continent across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.  It consists of two regions of energy consumption (Europe & Asia Pacific) and three regions of energy production (Russia and Arctic & Caspian & Middle East) in between.  It includes 91 countries, which represents two-thirds of the world population, exports of goods and services and GDP.

These evolving and developing geographic and economic integration projects based on strategic cooperation between Russia and China create a geographic mass of countries across, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East that are increasingly interdependent, and their interests are more closely intertwined than ever before.  Consequently; shifting geopolitics in Greater Eurasia driving the strategic convergence in economic power between Russia and China is posing challenges to U.S. leadership in the region and the world.   These interactions between Russia and China in the military and economic spheres demonstrate a growing trend in strategic cooperation between the two countries and may be driven by an ideological denominator, where both countries view the U.S. as the “Glavny Protivnik”.

Second; according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States became the world’s largest producer of petroleum hydrocarbons and the largest producer of oil with a total production capacity of 12.7 million barrels of oil per day as of March 2020, surpassing the daily production capacity of both Russia and Saudi-Arabia.  In the same manner; according to BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy report, the U.S. is still the world leader when it comes to natural gas production, averaging approximately 920 billion cubic meters of gas in 2019, followed by Russia, Iran, and Qatar.  As a result, the United States is undergoing an oil and natural gas production renaissance that will likely continue to change the global energy landscape, and lead to wide-ranging regional and global geopolitical implications.   The Age of Abundance for the U.S is driving the change in relations with regional allies, which, in part, will be redefined based on relations that are built around competition in the global gas market, and the supply of cleaner energy sources, especially, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Third; according to the CIA’s Global Threats Report  2019.  The ME region is highly vulnerable to changes in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, and floods, and that combined with Poor Governance – leads to increased food and water insecurity.    As a result, it is very likely that there will be an increased risk of social unrest, migration and tension between regional State, and non-State actors.

It stands to reason that the U.S. views the strategic benefits derived from maintaining the  historical strategic pillars, and policy objectives in the ME vis-à-vis the strategic risks associated with such policy as costly and no longer viable because of the greater strategic threats posed by both Russia’s aggression towards its neighbours in Europe in consequence of Russia’s own economic, political, and social agenda, which opposes the international liberal order promoted, and protected by the U.S. since the second world war., and China’s expanding financial and economic influence, and strategic cooperation with Russia in multiple domains to amass political and strategic advantage through improved economic and energy connectivity projects in Europe, Eurasia, Middle East, and Asia pacific.  Therefore; U.S vital strategic interests lay elsewhere and the U.S. views Russia and China as a greater strategic risk than Iran and Al-Qaeda, and that requires the U.S. to “do less” in the Middle East.  In consequence, from U.S perspective the Middle East region is no longer a priority for the United States.  

The strategic implications of the ongoing U.S. long goodbye to the M.E. region over the past decade have shifted the regional geopolitical environment and caused the formation of a power vacuum where state and non-state actors competing in a multi-level and proxy executed competition to gain diplomatic, economic, and strategic advantage.  As a result, three regional spheres of influence emerged vying for control and power in the region, including the conservative wing, comprising Saudi Arabia (GCC, less Qatar), Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. The anti-American wing includes Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.  Lastly the Islamist wing includes Turkey, and Qatar.  Add to this complex geopolitical landscape, Russian and Chinese inroads through military, economic, and weapons sales to regional actors to increase their regional influence.  In fact; in recent years, Moscow has strengthened its military foothold in Syria and secured access to military bases on the Mediterranean Sea, in order to expand its regional political, military, and economic influence.  Moscow’s regional engagement has solidified since 2015 Russian intervention in Syria.  Moreover, Russia’s expanding military exercises and weapons sales with Egypt selling 2$ billion worth of aircrafts to Cairo.  Further, Moscow support and expanded ties with Khalifa Haftar in Libya,  talks to sell S-400 Missile Defence System to Qatar, cooperation with Saudi Arabia to stabilize global oil markets, and strengthening relations with Israel and Iran are clear indications of Moscow’s increasing influence in the Middle East region.

In the same way, China’s strategic cooperation with Middle Eastern countries is on the rise.  For instance, the region is China’s No.1 source of imported petroleum products.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 50% of Chinese Oil imports come from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, and Iran, with Saudi Arabia providing 16% of Oil imports.  Further; Qatar, is the one of largest LNG suppliers to China.  Moreover, In July 2018, China and the UAE announced an upgrade to their 2012 strategic partnership to a “comprehensive Strategic Partnership”- China’s highest level of diplomatic relations, outlining cooperation in wide range of fields such as politics, economics, trade, technology, energy, renewable energy, and security.   Likewise, In Egypt, in September 2018 President Sisi visited Beijing and signed 18$ billion worth of deals with China including projects covering rail, real estate, and energy.  Again, Chinese construction firms are heavily engaged in constructing Egypt’s new administrative capital outside of Cairo and developing the Red Sea port and industrial zone.  Likewise, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt are important to China’s expanding BRI initiative.   The majority of Chinese trade with Europe passes through the Suez Canal, and China is expanding the cooperative zone around the canal by expanding the port and shipping facilities.   Finally, Jordan joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015, and Israel high speed rail project with China that will connect Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean to Eilat on the Red Sea.  Clearly, the multitude of Chinese driven infrastructure projects in the region are an indication that countries in the Middle East are welcoming China’s economic investments, and if history is a gauge of future developments, then it is reasonable to conclude that China is likely to increase its political engagement and expand its military presence in the region to protect and secure its economic interest.

In 2017, during a visit by president Trump to Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh declaration was announced.  The declaration is a U.S. proposal for a multilateral regional arrangement between Gulf Cooperation Council nations (GCC), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Jordan and Egypt, dubbed the Middle East Strategic alliance (MESA).  The proposal centres on the idea of a regional system with shared security, economic, and political architecture.   According to data from the World Bank Development Indicators (WBDI) (2018), the MESA boasts a combined GDP of $2.3 trillion and represents a market of 175 million consumers.  The proposal joins an increasing number of regional alliances that exist across the globe, such as the three seas initiative (3SI), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), among others.  Since its announcement, an ongoing dispute among the competing, regional spheres of influence, due to differences in their respective interests, capabilities, and threat perceptions has caused little progress in the future trajectory of this multilateral arrangement.

Finally, the reality is that the U.S. should not fully extricate itself from the region due to the U.S. great power competition with China and Russia, which the Trump Administration has placed at the centre of its national security strategy.   Instead, the U.S. should invest in its regional network of allies and partners to work together to maximize their strengths and address common challenges that are vital to U.S. national security and geopolitical stability.  The U.S. should push for and hasten the strategic convergence of the MESA member States by promoting deeper coordination and interaction among participants through multilateral cooperation in the economic, political, security, and energy spheres by calling to build the tools and the governing institutions to govern MESA operations and decision making such as a Middle East Strategic Alliance Council with prime ministers as members, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Economic Commission to manage the organizations day to day decision making activity, the Middle East Strategic Alliance Court system, tasked with managing disputes among member States, and a Middle East Strategic Alliance development bank and stabilization fund to support and drive integration efforts through regional lending and investment programs to boost, along an East-West axis, cross-border economic development, energy, water, transportation, and digital infrastructure connectivity projects.

As noted above, the U.S. should reposition itself at the helm of key Middle East dynamics, while simultaneously working with regional partners to balance Russian and Chinese inroads and expanding patterns of influence in the region.  Else, a lack of a clear, unified strategy for the Middle East, will perpetuate the current Hobbesian state of a bellum omnium contra omnes, which renders the whole Middle East system in a quantum state of neither at peace, nor at war, but, entangled in a super position of both states simultaneously; waiting for an observer; to implement the wrong policy option, resulting in the collapse of the state function; into a wilderness of tempestuous combustion; likely, paving the way, to the last age of Pax Americana.

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Economic Crisis Does Little to Dampen Mohammed bin Salman’s Pricey Ambitions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan announced austerity measures in May, including an $8 billion USD cut back on spending on Vision 2030 — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to restructure the Saudi economy — economists and pundits assumed that was the death knell for trophy projects like NEOM, a $500 billion USD plan for a futuristic mega smart city on the Red Sea.

Economists and pundits may want to think again.

Plagued by questions about the project’s strategic value at a time when the kingdom is struggling with the economic fallout of a pandemic, the impact of an oil price rout, and controversy over the killing of a tribal leader who resisted displacement, NEOM last week sought to counter the criticism by hiring a US public relations and lobbying firm.

NEOM’s $1.7 million USD contract with Ruder Finn – a PR company with offices in the US, Britain, and Asia – was concluded as the kingdom sought to salvage another trophy project, the acquisition of English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United, beset by accusations that the Saudi government had enabled TV broadcasting piracy in its rift with fellow Gulf state Qatar.

The controversy proved to be a lesson in the reputational risk involved in high-profile acquisitions. Piracy was not the only thing complicating the acquisition of Newcastle. So was Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as a result of mass arrests of activists and critics and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

With the publication of a damning report by the World Trade Organization (WTO), Saudi Arabia moved quickly to counter the criticism by removing boxes of BeoutQ, an operation that pirated sports broadcasts legally contracted by BeIN, the sports franchise of state-owned Qatari television network Al Jazeera. BeoutQ broadcasts were carried by Saudi-based Arabsat.

BeoutQ was taking advantage of the banning of BeIN in the kingdom as part of the three-year-old Saudi-UAE diplomatic and economic boycott of fellow Gulf state Qatar. Saudi sports cafes began broadcasting BeIN for the first time immediately after release of the WTO report.

Like the Saudi response to the WTO, NEOM’s contract with Ruder Finn seems to be an effort to repair reputational damage.

Ruder Finn’s mandate appears designed to counter the fallout of the killing in April of Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti, whom the government labelled a terrorist, and to project NEOM as a socially responsible corporation bent on engagement with its local community.

Taking issue with the suggestion that NEOM was in damage limitation mode, Ali Shihabi, a political analyst, former banker, and member of NEOM’s advisory board who often reflects Saudi thinking, argued in a series of tweets that project NEOM was about much more than refuting negative media reporting.

“There is much more substance to NEOM than ‘flashy projects.’ NEOM will be heavily involved in serious projects like advanced desalination, innovative desert agriculture and more use of solar and wind energy, etc. that are very relevant to the country and the region’s urgent needs. These have been very well planned/researched and some are already being executed,” Mr. Shihabi wrote, admitting that the company behind the project had yet to detail its plans.

Mr. Shihabi’s claims were seconded by Ruder Finn in its filing to the US Department of Justice as a foreign agent.

“NEOM is a bold and audacious dream,” Ruder Finn said. “It’s an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it comes at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions.”

Ruder Finn’s contract was announced after NEOM said that it was taking multiple steps to demonstrate that it was being “socially responsible and [would] deliver . . . impactful, sustainable and committed initiatives.”

In lieu of Mr. Shihabi’s anticipated detailing of NEOM’s grandiose plans, Ruder Finn’s filing to the Department of Justice as a foreign agent, as well as NEOM’s announcements, seemed less geared toward projecting the futuristic city’s economic and environmental contribution and more towards repairing damage caused by the dispute with local tribesmen and the killing of Mr. Al-Huwaiti.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti, a leader of protests against alleged forced evictions and vague promises of compensation, was reportedly killed in a gun fight with security forces.

Mr. Al-Huwaiti predicted that he would be either detained or killed in a video posted on YouTube hours before his death. In the video, he claimed that whatever happened to him would be designed to break the resistance of his Huwaitat tribe to their displacement.

He denounced Prince Mohammed’s leadership as “rule by children” and described the kingdom’s religious establishment that has endorsed the Crown Prince’s policies as “silent cowards.”

An estimated 20,000 people are expected to be moved out of an area that Prince Mohammed once said had “no one there.”

NEOM declared earlier this week that it would be offering English-language lessons at its recently established academy and that some 1,000 students would be trained in tourism, hospitality, and cybersecurity.

At the same time, the government said that eligible Saudis would be compensated for loss of land with plots along the coast as part of a program to improve standards of living.

Online news service Foreign Lobby Report reported that Ruder Finn would produce informational materials, including a monthly video to promote NEOM’s engagement with the local community as well as visual materials highlighting the company’s fulfillment of its social responsibility.

Ruder Finn’s efforts were likely to do little to convince the kingdom’s critics.

Writing in Foreign Policy in April, Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s former Middle East and North Africa Director, and Abdullah AlAoudh, a Saudi legal scholar, dismissed NEOM’s grand ambitions. Mr. AlAoudh’s father Shaykh Salman Al-Odah, a prominent reformist religious scholar, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2017 for advocating an end to the rift with Qatar.

“Whether the NEOM project is even remotely viable, given the global financial collapse because of the coronavirus and rising Saudi debt amid historically low oil prices, is highly doubtful,” Ms. Whitson and Mr. AlAoudh said. “The only result we’ve seen from this vision for a futuristic city is the promised destruction of a historic community and the death of a Saudi protester, using archaic means with no room for modern notions of rights and justice.”

Author’s note: An initial version of this story was first published in Inside Arabia

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Middle East

Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank: Old and new problems

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to establish as of July 1 Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over some areas of Judaea and Samaria, also known as parts of the West Bank and the River Jordan, which fell under the  control of Israel as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. At present, about half a million Israelis reside in these areas. However, most countries, citing international law, consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal on the grounds that they pose an obstacle to clinching peace with Palestinians.

The announcement of the Israeli leader had nothing sensational about it. Israel’s policy, aimed at de facto annexing Palestinian territories and at legal acts regarding Israeli communities in the West Bank, undergoes no substantial changes. But this time, the issue under consideration is the legitimization, the establishment of the legal status of these territories as Israeli.

Ideas of this kind are constantly circulating within the ranks of the country’s right-wing politicians. Moreover, being a staunch Zionism maximalist and after 15 years in power, in the course of which he frequently enjoyed a parliamentary majority,  Benjamin Netanyahu could have easily secured this status. However, political caution and pragmatism held him back. That’s why the question is why these plans have acquired a clear-cut shape now, with even a date set for the start of the process.

There seem to be many reasons for this. Naturally, some are personal. At the peak of success, in connection with the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and Washington’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and also, following a triumphant recovery from the long-running government crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu is set on strengthening his positions, on winning the support of a maximum number of Israelis, particularly in the light of recent events, after his case went to court.[1]

But the main reason is overall support of Israel from the Trump administration. Never before were relations between Washington and Jerusalem that close.

Undoubtedly, what triggered the process was the ambitious and difficult-to-implement draft agreement proposed by US President Donald Trump to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which, in the opinion of the White House, guarantees a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and puts an end to the more than 70 – year conflict in the Middle East.  The 180-page document stipulates that Israel maintains its sovereignty over the territory of the Jordan Valley, Judea and Samaria. In addition, Washington insists that Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands should be recognized as territory of Israel. That is, all Jewish settlements will remain in their places, including 15 remote settlements which are in no way connected to territories that will be handed over to Israel.

It’s no secret that the draft was developed by Trump’s officials within the framework of consultations with Israelis. The document, presented by Trump on January 28, 2020, was dubbed “the deal of the century”. After the presentation, Israeli and American teams got down to work to make maps of West Bank areas which Israel could annex first under the plan. Although, the American and Israeli positions do not always coincide.

Yet, the coming on the scene of the “deal of the century” and the Netanyahu plan are no accident. Times are changing.

Firstly, after a months-long political crisis in Israel a coalition government has been formed which will be run by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for 18 months, and the remaining 18 months after November 17, 2021 (if nothing extraordinary happens) until the next elections – by Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. Thus, the political instability at home has been neutralized.

The coalition agreement which has been achieved in Israel hinges on a document signed by Netanyahu and Gantz on behalf of their parties Likud and Kahol Lavan. This document regulates division of power, the functioning of the new government, and a detailed procedure of decision-making with the right of veto. One important reservation is that expansion of Israeli sovereignty (or annexation) can be proclaimed by Netanyahu and his party without the consent of Gantz, and accordingly, his party. This is the only political area which has such a reservation which abolishes veto.

What speaks of Netanyahu’s “resoluteness” is a changed role of Israel in regional and global affairs. Having integrated into the global economy, Israel, without any exaggeration, has achieved a lot, both technologically, and in terms of security potential. This was backed by progress in the demographic sphere (which is important for Israel), and in the economy. In 2000 the population of Israel was a little over 6 million, in April 2020 – 9,2 million. (At the time of the declaration of independence in 1948 Israel was home to 872 700). In 2000 per capita GDP totaled $ 21038, by 2020 it increased to $ 42823.

The hefty reserves of natural gas which were discovered on Israel’s Mediterranean coast in 2010 and which are already being developed form a foundation of the country’s energy independence and enable it to become a gas exporting country. All this contributes to Netanyahu’s confidence.

Israel’s position in the Middle East is changing as well. The Arab neighbors have become less adverse to it. Gulf monarchies, along with other Arab nations are getting closer and closer to Israel in their confrontation with Iran. Europe, preoccupied with migrant-related problems, is  less critical of Israel and  less protective of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian political institutes, just like Palestinian leaders, are split between the West Bank and Gaza, which makes them weaker politically.

On the whole, the Palestinian issue appears to be tiring for many actors in the  Middle East.

Therefore, a combination of positive factors, both subjective and objective, has set the stage for the  appearance of Trump’s “deal of the century” and led to the present announcement of the Israeli prime minister. 

US and Israeli leaders are in a hurry: November 3, 2020 – the day of the presidential elections in America – may become critical for the far-reaching plans of the parties concerned.

It needs to acknowledge, however, that if put into effect, the Netanyahu plan is fraught with severe consequences for Israel proper, and for the rest of the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, the initiative voiced by Prime Minister Netanyahu will prove explosive for the current political situation in the country, which is complicated enough without it. Protests are already rolling through Israel against the expansion of sovereignty to the West Bank. Even Netanyahu’s supporters are fully aware that the risks in the Netanyahu-proposed strategic game are extremely high. A great deal is put on stake: human lives, security, economy, the country’s international image. That is why voices against the plan are heard ever more frequently, demanding that the date of the start of the sovereignty declaration procedure be postponed.

Moreover, on June 9 the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice passed a ruling that could come crucial for the country and for the Israeli-Palestinian settlement process. The Court abolished a law under which Jewish settlements in the West Bank which were built on Palestinian territories illegally, can be legalized.

The Netanyahu plan boosts the risk of a new intifada, new terrorist attacks from radical Islamists. Naturally, Palestinians are highly adverse to the move. Deputy chief of the JAMAS “political bureau” Saleh Aruri has made it clear that a return of “armed confrontation” to the West Bank has become a possibility, “more probable   than some could imagine”.

A political storm at home will have a negative effect on Israeli economy and will undermine its defense potential, its power to confront JAMAS, Hezbollah and their ally – the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Tehran will get a good stimulus for activating anti-Israeli propaganda, for convincing its Arab neighbors of Israel’s wickedness, for expanding financial and military support of Palestinians in their struggle for a Palestinian state, for initiating a new phase of the hybrid war against the Jewish state.

The fledgling Israel-friendly architecture for the Middle East, which envisages a certain normalization of relations with Arab opponents, may crumble in a flicker of an eye.

Without doubt, Arabs will condemn the Netanyahu plan, though it may happen that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states, having joined the anti-Israeli chorus, will not risk jeopardizing cooperation with it.

Europe, which is a major trade partner of Israel, is against the Netanyahu plan. Israel is closely integrated with European cooperation programs, including in education, scientific research and innovations, which yield considerable mutual benefits. All this may now be put under threat. The position of the European Union on annexation is clear and consistent: the EU «does not recognize any changes of the 1967 borders, unless they are acknowledged by Israelis and Palestinians». The EU urges Israel to refrain from annexation.

China and Russia will adhere to their present positions, based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council and international law. Moscow and Beijing, while defending their views, will strive to prevent a deterioration of bilateral relations with Israel.

The Russian position on the Netanyahu plan was spelled out by Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, who said that implementation of intentions to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank seemed a very dangerous scenario. Annexation of Palestinian territories by Israel will cross out prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and trigger a new upsurge of violence.

The ambassador reiterated a position in favor of a two-state solution on the basis of a commonly recognized international framework. He pointed out the need to secure an early resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the patronage of the United Nations in order to negotiate a final status and achieve a comprehensive peace settlement on the basis of UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Earlier (on May 20) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on the phone  with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, confirmed Russia’s readiness in tandem with other members of the Middle East Quartet (Russia, the USA, the EU, the UN) to contribute to the reset of a peace process by means of a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinian-Israeli problem is clearly a knotty issue which has been a point of unsuccessful talks for more than 70 years. It penetrates the political, diplomatic and military space of the Middle East, affecting the situation in different parts of the region. The putting into effect of the Netanyahu plan on expanding the Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria, coupled with Trump’ “deal of the century”, will surely cause an explosive reaction worldwide, in Israel proper, and throughout the Middle East.

It looks like the only positive thing about Netanyahu’s and Trump’s controversial and dangerous plans is that these projects have yet again attracted the attention of the world community to the Palestinian problem, an acute issue of our day. But July 1 is just round the corner! 

[1] Reference: On May 24 the first session of the Jerusalem District Court got under way to consider three cases which were filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the first time in Israel’s history when an incumbent prime minister is officially accused of criminal wrongdoing. 

The first inquiry against the prime minister was held in 1999-2000. Back then, the police sued him on five charges – bribery, an attempt to embezzle state property, fraud, abuse of office and attempts to impede the inquiry. However, all lawsuits were closed before reaching court for lack of evidence.

The year 2016 saw a new inquiry which was conducted within the framework of three separate cases known in the press as «Case 1000», «Case 2000» and «Case 4000». On the basis of these cases the Israeli Prosecutor-General Avichai Mandelblit issued official charges against Netanyahu on November 21st, 2019. On  «Case 1000» and «Case 2000» the prime minister is charged with fraud and abuse of trust (Article 284 of the Criminal Code provides for a three-year imprisonment), on «Case 4000» he is charged with fraud, abuse of trust and bribery (Article 290 of the Criminal Code, up to 10 years in prison). On January 28, 2020 all cases were transferred to the Jerusalem District Court.

Benjamin Netanyahu denies all charges saying that all the cases against him have been fabricated for the purpose of removing right wingers from power.

From our partner International Affairs

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