Considering what reported in the media, President Trump’s Middle East Plan – not yet fully outlined – is based, according to his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on four basic principles: freedom of religion, freedom in life and professional opportunities, freedom of movement and freedom of political opinions.
There are also Opportunities, i.e. the possibility for young people not to be carried away by the conflicts that have ruined their fathers’ lives, as well as Safety and Security – in life and work – for all Middle East citizens.
Finally, in the Middle East Plan there is Respect among people and Respect for Religions, Parties and ethnic groups. Protestant ethic and business – the classic pair of US foreign policy. Almost a reminder of Max Weber’s book “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”.
In economic and operational terms, Trump’s Plan focuses on infrastructure, especially in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
This is the central idea in Trump’s Plan, i.e. diluting, dissolving and finally eliminating the conflict between Israel and its neighbouring Arab States through a vast mass of investment.
This can create the best climate for a stable peace between the Jewish State and the Islamic (but also secular) universe surrounding it.
There is no precise data on the investment connected to President Trump’s new Middle East Plan, but the most authoritative and reliable sources mention a total amount of 25 billion US dollars for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be provided over ten years, in addition to an investment of 40 billion US dollars in Egypt, Jordan and, probably, the Lebanon. Said investment shall be made conditional upon a series of intermediate results to be assessed. Also in these cases, the investment will be made over a decade.
Currently this is the most certain data available, but there is also news about an investment for the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the rest of the Arab countries of at least additional 30-40 billion dollars, especially in infrastructure.
From whom does the money come? Mostly from the “rich” Arab countries, but also the USA will contribute to said investment, although we do not yet know to what extent.
Between February and March, Jared Kushner visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain. He met Turkish President Erdogan and then paid a visit to Saudi Arabia -where Kushner has an excellent personal relationship with Mohammad bin Salman – and finally to Qatar.
Kushner, the soul of President Trump’s Middle East policy, clarified that, in addition to investment, the Plan regards the borders between the different regions.
Indeed, Kushner, rather than thinking of new borders, imagines a Middle East “without borders”.
The usual post-modern myth of no borders, according to which all the borders that separate States are artificial, dangerous, unnatural and always lead to wars.
Indeed, the opposite is true: wars break out because there are not enough borders.
According to Kushner, the idea of no borders is associated with an increase in trade and movement of people and, hopefully, with an increase in “opportunities”. It is not true that the countries trading among themselves do not wage wars: just think about the USA and the Third Reich in the Second World War or about the endless British actions in Central Asia and India. Quite the reverse. The more countries trade one another, the more there are reasons to distort or establish strategic hegemony.
The opportunities mentioned by Kushner are the same which currently apply to Central African migrants, leaving their countries (which are not “at war”, as European leaders believe) to reach the EU, or to the refugees of the war in Syria, moving to Turkey, the Balkans and Central Europe. Opportunities without realism. Not even a Hollywood film can turn the tragedy of migration into a market of very easy “opportunities”.
Obviously the elimination of borders also means the evaporation of the “Palestinian State”.
Indeed, it will be difficult for the Arab countries to fund economic reconstruction with Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia does not even want to completely lose the Palestinian strategic asset, just now that Iran is penetrating the political and military system of the Gaza Strip and the PNA’s territories.
However, even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is de facto ruling Saudi Arabia, still wants “onesingle and independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital city”.
It is hard to believe that Saudi Arabia and Israel think like Kushner, the young man in favour of no borders.
This is exactly the core of the issue.
If the United States must directly take care of the support for Palestinians, in a context of very delicate intra-Arab and Arab-Israeli equilibria, problems will certainly arise and not only at legal level.
For example, since March 2018 the Taylor Force Act has laid down that the United States will no longer be in a position to financially support the Palestinian National Authority, since it helps the jihadist terrorists currently detained in Israeli prisons.
The Act also sets strong limits on financial support for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
A significant legal impediment for the Middle East “no borders” actions of the current US Presidency.
Furthermore, the Gulf States are not very happy to fund, almost completely, President Trump’s Middle East Plan and would like a much stronger US financial commitment than the one currently envisaged.
The Gulf countries and the other Arab countries included in the Trump Plan want to see how much money the USA will make available to its Plan, and only later, where necessary, they will pay their own share.
President Trump has also organised an “economic workshop” in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26, in which also businessmen and entrepreneurs from Europe will be invited, but above all from Asia and the Middle East.
The format of the Conference organized in Bahrain has already been decided: Trump’s Administration will invite only Finance Ministers and not the European, Asian and Middle East Foreign Ministers.
There will also be many and very important leaders of large global companies, from around the world, to discuss mainly investment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
President Trump’s Plan, however, was discussed confidentially with 25 of the most important managers of international companies at the Milken Conference held in Los Angeles on April 29-30 last.
On that occasion, President Trump’s potential counterparts for his Middle East Plan were certainly Ibrahim Ajami, responsible for the venture capital of Mubadala Abu Dhabi’s largest investment vehicle; Joussef Al Otaiba, the Emirates’ Ambassador to the USA; Khalid al-Rumaihi, the CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Fund; Ibrahim Salaad Almojel, General Manager of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund; Deloitte Director Margaret Anderson; Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araùjo and many other managers of investment funds and companies.
Israel has been invited to the workshop in Bahrain, probably with Finance Minister Moshe Kalon – or others, if there are developments in Israel’s political crisis.
It should be noted, however, that Israel and Bahrain have no diplomatic relations and this mission would be a strong spur for regularizing relations between the two countries.
Nevertheless also the PNA is boycotting Trump’s Administration and his Middle East Plan, but the White House has already invited a large group of Palestinian businessmen, who could participate in Manama’s Conference only in a personal capacity.
The old EU ruling class has reacted to Trump’s Plan in a fully predictable way. It still supports the “two States” solution for Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – something reminding us of the old Cold War – with a panel of over 35 European leaders, including Massimo D’Alema, Franco Frattini, Ana Palacio and Willi Claes, the former NATO Secretary General.
In fact, apart from the PNA’s resentment against President Trump’s Administration, in the Plan – albeit only generically outlined – there is no specific rejection of the “two States” solution.
To tell the truth, currently – as in the past -the survival of the Palestinian State – in its present form – is often prevented by the Arab countries themselves, which are more interested in a stable watchdog on the Israeli border than in a stable country and solution for the Palestinian people.
In the United States, the Democrats’ criticism against President Trump’s Middle East Plan, is focused on three principles. Firstly, Democrats do not accept the “reality on the field”, including Israel’s foreseen annexation of part of the West Bank. Secondly, they reject the ethnic or religious division lines. Thirdly, they refuse to accept Israel’s permanent control of the occupied territories.
Diminutio capitis for Israel and, according to some analysts, everything will go well. And if the exact opposite were true?
Nevertheless, at strategic level, even without the occupied territories, the possibility of an attack on Israel from the East – even hetero-directed – increases vertically.
Moreover, this has long been happening alsoin the Gaza Strip.
The opposition to Trump is essentially punitive only vis-à-vis Israel, while it considers the Palestinian region irrelevant from the military and strategic viewpoints.
Throughout 2018, as many as 17 rocket launches were carried out on the Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip alone, all of them with multiple carriers – in addition to other military operations from the Palestinian National Authority’s territory in the West Bank, and from there against Israel.
President Trump, however, can also rely on the fact that the relationship between the Arab countries and Israel has changed radically over the last 50 years.
Currently four Arab States, namely Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have great ascendancy – also at material level – over the Palestinian organizations, although the strategic interest of a certain Arab world in the PNA and its territories is now minimal.
Furthermore, unlike the past of the Cold War, both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates currently have ongoing good relations with Israel – albeit inevitably covertly.
Therefore both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates can currently exert significant political influence on both Israel and the Palestinians.
Hence a structural crisis of the US presence in the Middle East, while both Saudi Arabia and Jordan – despite the war in Syria-have never wanted to check the US willingness to hold its positions in the Middle East.
If the USA leaves the Middle East, Saudi Arabia could play its card for peace with the Jewish State, while the other Arab and Islamic countries interested in the region, namely Egypt, the Emirates and possibly even Turkey, could also play the game of expanding their area of influence, with or without the agreement with Israel – which, however, would be finally inevitable.
Certainly there is considerable disillusionment of the Arab world with the Palestinians and their “cause”.
The PNA is a state, economic and strategic failure of very great relevance. The Saudi Arab world and the Emirates do not want to maintain pressure on Israel indefinitely, right now that the Jewish State- after correctly analysing the new Middle East strategy – has good relations with the Gulf oil powers.
The Palestinian region could be an inevitable and decisive asset against the Shiite region dominated by Iran.
In this new system, Israel has the possibility of being less isolated regionally, but also of bearing less Arab pressure for solving the problem of the Gaza Strip, as well as less Palestinians’ international defence.
In fact, Saudi Arabia and the other allies, including Egypt and Jordan, no longer bet on the Palestinians, given the break between Hamas (which is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, as also Al Sisi’s Egypt knows all too well) and Fatah in the Territories.
The fragmentation of Palestinians stultifies the strategic advantage they can offer to the rest of the Arab world.
With a view to preventing other countries, especially Turkey and Iran, from being given credit for championing the Palestinian cause, Saudi Arabia and its allies still support the PNA by mouth.
Hence either a new Middle East Peace Plan, different from the usual one, is devised, or we will fail miserably.
As usual, the European Union is at least ten years behind, with its “Cold War-style” support for the Palestinians. As if we were still in the period of the Kippur War.
The United States can solve the Palestinian issue by defusing it, as well as asking the Arab allies to have a different relationship with Hamas and eliminating the new Iranian presence in the region on the border with Israel – apart from Hezbollah, which is another issue.
Moreover, the no borders myth must be avoided. The region must be well controlled precisely because it will become a place for major investment.
Finally, it should be established that Israel can expand eastwards, but only in the framework of a new international agreement on the Middle East, which will apply also to borders, areas of influence, division of international work and investment – also at military level.
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya
With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday.
Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December.
They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year.
At the crossroads
“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš. “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.”
He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.
Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation.
Foreign fighter threat
The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline.
“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.
“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.”
Young voters eager
The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results.
He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country.
So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women. Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots.
“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.
“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned. “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”
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