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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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Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi sports diplomacy is proving to be a mirror image of the kingdom’s challenged domestic, regional and foreign policies.

Overlorded by sports czar Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi sports diplomacy, like the kingdom’s broader policies, has produced at best mixed results, suggesting that financial muscle coupled with varying degrees of coercion does not guarantee success.

Mr. Al-Sheikh, a 37-year old brash and often blunt former honorary president of Saudi soccer club Al Taawoun based in Buraidah, a stronghold of religious ultra-conservatism, and a former bodyguard of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is together with Saud al-Qahtani among the king-in-waiting’s closest associates.

Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest investors, acknowledged Mr. Al-Sheikh’s ranking in the Saudi hierarchy when he made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to Saudi soccer club Al Hilal FC weeks after having been released from detention.

Prince al-Waleed was one of the more recalcitrant detainees among the scores of members of the ruling family, prominent businessmen and senior officials who were detained a year ago in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel as part of Prince Mohammed’s power and asset grab.

Prince Al-Waleed said on Twitter at the time that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”

Mr. Al-Qahtani, who was recently fired as Prince Mohammed’s menacing information czar in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was banned this week from travelling outside the kingdom. Mr. Al-Sheikh has not been linked to the Khashoggi murder.

Nevertheless, his sports diplomacy, exhibiting some of the brashness that has characterized Prince Mohammed as well as Mr Al-Qahtani’s approach, has largely failed to achieve its goals. If anything, it appears to have contributed to the kingdom’s growing list of setbacks.

Those goals included establishing Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse in regional and global soccer governance; countering Qatari sports diplomacy crowned by its hosting of the 2022 World Cup; projecting the kingdom in a more favourable light by hosting international sporting events; becoming a powerhouse in soccer-crazy Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation; and using the competition for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to bully Morocco into supporting the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led boycott of Qatar.

To be sure, with the exception of a cancelled tennis exhibition match in Jeddah between stars Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, most scheduled sporting events, including this season’s opening Formula E race in December and the Italian Supercoppa between Juventus and AC Milan in January, are going ahead as planned despite a six-week old crisis sparked by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Yet, if last month’s friendly soccer match in Jeddah between Brazil and Argentina and this month’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Crown Jewel showpiece are anything to go by, major sporting events are doing little to polish the kingdom’s image tarnished not only by the Khashoggi killing but also the war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The sports events have so far failed to push Mr. Khashoggi and Yemen out of the headlines of major independent media.

Mainstream media coverage of Saudi sports has, moreover, focussed primarily on Saudi sports diplomacy’s struggle to make its mark internationally. One focus been the fact that Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer body FIFA, has run into opposition from the group’s European affiliate, UEFA, to his plan to endorse a US$25 billion plan for a new club tournament funded by the Saudi and UAE-backed Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.

If adopted, the plan would enhance Saudi and Emirati influence in global soccer governance to the potential detriment of Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and the UAE spearhead a 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar designed to force it to surrender its right to chart an independent course rather than align its policies with those of its Gulf brothers.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to engineer a situation in which Qatar is either deprived of its hosting rights or forced to share them with other states in the region, a possibility Mr. Infantino has said he was exploring.

Mr. Infantino has also said he was looking into implementing an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams already in 2022 rather than only in 2026. An expansion of the Qatari World Cup would probably involve including others in the Gulf as hosts of the tournament. Qatari officials have all but ruled out sharing their hosting rights.

Another media focus has been alleged Saudi piracy aimed at undermining Qatar-owned BeIN Corp, the world’s biggest sports rights holder, including the rights to broadcast last summer’s Russia World Cup in the Arab world.

Mr. Al-Qahtani reportedly played a key role in the sudden emergence of BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat that ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.

The piracy has sparked international lawsuits, including international arbitration in which BeIN is seeking US1 billion in damages from Saudi Arabia. The company has also filed a case with the World Trade Organization.

FIFA has said it has taken steps to prepare for legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have been affected to protect their interests.

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s effort to create with funds widely believed to have been provided by Prince Mohammed an international Saudi sports portfolio that would project the kingdom as a regional power broker collapsed with fans, players and club executives in Egypt furious at the Saudi officials buying influence and using it to benefit Saudi rather than Egyptian clubs.

“No one, no one at all — with all due respect to Turki or no Turki … will be allowed to interfere in the club’s affairs,” said Mahmoud el-Khatib, chairman of Egyptian club Al Ahli SC, one of the Middle East’s most popular clubs with an estimated 50 million fans. Mr. Al-Sheikh had unsuccessfully tried to use his recently acquired honorary chairmanship of Al Ahli to take control of the club.

Al Ahli’s rejection of his power grab persuaded Mr. Al-Sheikh to resign in May and instead bankroll Al Ahli rival Pyramid FC. He invested US$33 million to acquire three top Brazilian players and launch a sports channel dedicated to the team.

The club’s fans, like their Al Ahli counterparts, nonetheless, denounced Mr. Al-Sheikh and the kingdom and insulted the Saudi official’s mother in crass terms during a match in September. Mr. Al-Sheikh decided to abandon his Egyptian adventure after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ignored his request to intervene. “Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day. Why the headache?” Mr Al-Sheikh said on Facebook.

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s attempt to form a regional powerbase by creating a breakaway group of South Asian and Middle Eastern soccer federations beyond the confines of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) collapsed five months after the formation of the South-West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) when seven South Asian nations pulled out with immediate effect.

The collapse of SWAFF and Mr. Al-Sheikh’s withdrawal from Egypt were preceded by his backing of the US-Canadian-Mexican bid for the 2026 World Cup against Morocco after he failed to bully the North Africans into supporting the boycott of Qatar.

Adopting a Saudi Arabia First approach, Mr. Al-Sheikh noted that the United States “is our biggest and strongest ally.” He recalled that when the World Cup was played in 1994 in nine American cities, the US “was one of our favourites. The fans were numerous, and the Saudi team achieved good results.”

That was Mr. Al-Sheikh’s position six months ago. Today, men like Prince Mohammed and Messrs. Al-Sheikh and Al-Qahtani are seething. US President Donald J. Trump is proving to be an unreliable ally. Not only is he pressuring the kingdom to come up with a credible explanation for Mr. Khashoggis’ killing, Mr. Trump is also seemingly backtracking on his promise to bring Iran to its knees by imposing crippling economic sanctions.

Saudi distrust is fuelled by the fact that Mr. Trump first asked the kingdom to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran and then without informing it made a 180-degree turn by offering buyers generous waivers that keep Iranian crude in the market instead of drive exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero.

Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh, drew his pro-American definition of Saudi Arabia First from the crown prince’s focus on the United States. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh and other senior Saudi officials may be considering whether putting the kingdom’s eggs primarily in one basket remains the best strategy.

Whatever the case, Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sweep through regional and global sports has left Saudi leaders with little to leverage in the kingdom’s bid to pick up the pieces and improve its image tarnished first and foremost by Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but also by the trail the sports czar has left behind.

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Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East

Samantha Maloof

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Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.

The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.

Conspicuous by their absence

Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.

The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.

An “island” of stability

Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.

Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.

Delicate peace in Beirut

Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.

External actors have key roles to play

Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.

If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.

Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.

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The sanctions of a split

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The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.

The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors.  The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”

“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”

Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector,  – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.

Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.

This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.

Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program,  development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.

Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.

Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.  Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.

Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.

A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.

In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.

For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.

Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.

The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank).  Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.

According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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