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Donald Trump’s Son-in-Law plan or Deal of the Century

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Apart from US perhaps India is the only country that can diplomatically help in resolving the issue because it has good relations with both the parties plus it shares tremendous bilateral relations with United States. India should extend the offer to mediate for the sake of world peace.

 Donald Trump’s Kushner plan or settlement freeze or what he calls the ‘deal of the century’ is yet again the old disagreed one sided and pro-Israel formulae proposing better life for Palestinians at the cost of their freedom. What US President calls realistic two-state solution sounds more unrealistic and discriminatory since Israel’s colonial fantasies have always been Washington’s priorities? Yet again the Trump sided with the Israel and put forward a plan that further disintegrates Palestinians’ and aims at providing full support to Israel to annex all of its West Bank settlements. The announcement of the plan has failed to resonate among masses who called it non-sense and conspiracy thus sparked protests in the Middle East already marking the plan dead on arrival. The question is will it resolve anything on the ground and change the fate of millions of oppressed people when it has already become the end of the road. While Trump calls it a win-win for both but in reality it is a clear victory of Israel and signifies its domination over Palestine.

While trump’s plan has been rejected by the Palestinian leadership who branded it as filth of the century especially the president Mehmood Abbas and Hamas have rejected the deal in strong words. The scholars round the globe have also criticised it though in soft words while UN rejecting the deal and maintaining its earlier stand on the issue. The timing of the plan is also interesting as Trump is seeking another term soon; faced impeachment embarrassment recently and lot of criticism back home while Israel’s PM Natanyahu is welcoming the plan and even calling it ‘opportunity of the century’ (though he means opportunity for him) for it may pay him large dividends and recover his tainted image especially when he has formally been indicted in court on corruption charges recently.

The need of the hour is to solve it forever but not on the basis of US’s blind favouritism for Israel. While some leaders Like Boris Johnson and the people of his ilk may admonish Palestine not to waste this golden opportunity, Palestinians see it as theft and as a plan of apartheid that gives them a limited sovereignty. Trump’s very statement that Jerusalem ‘will remain Israel’s undivided capital’ destroys the plan itself and even he has the audacity to state that the Palestinians can call their capital ‘al-Quds’. The mockery is why they will call a different territory as ‘Al-Quds’ which is far from the Quds itself (portions of east Jerusalem).The seriousness and sanctity of the plan lies in the fact that it was discussed and announced before a pro-Israel audience with Benjamin Netanyahu by Trump’s side and nobody from the Palestinian side thereby endorsing the Israel’s aggression and leaving no option for Palestinian side. Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank is nothing but an approval to Israel’s colonial polices and thus is flawed and against the international law. Palestine’s foreign minister rightly reacted by saying that,  “this can’t be the future of Palestine and our people have not struggled for so long, endured so much to simply change the size of their chains”. Palestinian side take it as a further compromise on their part and not at all a deal aiming at resolution of the issue. 

By such a plan it is actually the Israel in connivance with world’s super power that wants to further impoverish the Palestinian state by offering the conditional liberty and still claiming that it could pave the way to a peace deal.  Palestine demands freedom and sovereignty and not limited autonomy. The fact remains that Palestinian side is though labelled for not reacting positively to talks offer or rejecting the talks every time but it is actually Israel that has disregarded the talks always. 

 Muslim World Rejects the Deal

While the Muslim world may not like the so called deal of the century that virtually divides Palestine and treats Jerusalem as capital of the Israel. It has further increased the gulf between the Muslims and the American stand (USA). Countries like Qatar, Malaysia, Turkey, Morocco,  Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, The Arab League, OIC and even Israeli rights groups like B’Tselem all have unanimously criticised the deal. Even Trump’s favourite ally Saudi Arabia has not endorsed the plan. Hardly any Muslim country is willing to accept Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. President Abbas out rightly rejected the proposal saying it is impossible for any Palestinian to accept a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.

Understanding India’s Position

India from the very beginning wants a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Needless to say India has a very good relationship with Israel given the mutual trade as well as security cooperation however India has also been fairly supportive of the Palestinian issue and such a position in fact makes it difficult for India to support any of the two parties. India is the biggest importer of Israeli arms in the world. The relations grew especially after 1992 when India announced its full diplomatic relations with Israel. After that India and Israel have become close on several counts like defence and civilian technological innovation, etc,.Israel is the only country in the Middle East perhaps that India has leverage over as the relations between the two nations have been evolving and growing and reached to a bilateral trade of about 5 billion dollars today.

On the other hand, India is Palestine’s friend as well. Right from 1974 when India became the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people to 1988, when India became one of the first countries to recognise the Palestinian State. Way back in 1996 India opened its representative office in Gaza that was later shifted to Ramallah in 2003. On November 19, 2019 when India also voted in favour of the resolution titled, ‘The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee’. The resolution recognised the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Thus India is in favour of Palestine’s right to self determination.

Therefore Indian diplomacy at this juncture is playing safe given the increased and deepened relationships especially under the Modi regime. Therefore it seems India would abstain from offending either Israel or say anything that affects its good ties with the Muslim world that openly support Palestine and harshly criticise Israel.

India has so far only urged both the parties to engage on Trump’s peace plan. While India has been fairly supportive of the Palestinian issue and firmly believes that the issues be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties that should be acceptable to says a statement released by the ministry of external affairs on January 29, 2020. India has to play an active role in the Middle East as it is in India’s backyard. But at the same time it has to consider important factors like Washington’s stand given the bilateral relations, sentiments back home given a considerable population that is supporting Palestine.

Apart from US perhaps India is the only country that can diplomatically help in resolving the issue because it has good relations with both the parties plus it shares tremendous bilateral relations with United States. India should extend the offer to mediate for the sake of world peace.

Tail Piece

Today Palestinian is more than just a political issue. It is also not a real estate project as Trump’s son-in-law perceives it to be; it has a severe humanitarian baggage with millions of refugees living in suffering far away from their own land. Kushner’s very statement ‘if they reject the plan they’re going to screw up another opportunity’, simply reflects how much value and respect is being given to Palestinian side and therefore is clearly an imposition. This deal practically won’t change most Palestinian lives for plan has no vision of tackling such a huge human crisis; it simply forbids refugees’ entry since the right of return of any Palestinian refugee into Israel is forbidden. For Israelis and Palestinians to reach a bilateral agreement, The US or the other peace brokers cannot preach a pro-Israeli vision or lure the Palestinian leadership by talking of a $50bn of investment (that too without an idea where from the money will come) as a solution and name it a peace deal. The 181 page plan itself is faulty as is either ambiguous or silent on many key issues that are crucial to Palestine’s existence. It is next to impossible to envision a Palestinian state with restrictions while also recognising Israeli settlements. There is a need to move ahead and propose something more and just than what was offered in previous peace attempts including this Jared Kushner’s peace plan what he calls the opportunity of the century is now glorified as the deal of the century.

Author’s note: first appeared in Greater Kashmir

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The Absence of Riyadh in the Turbulent Afghanistan

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As the situation in Afghanistan becoming increasingly turbulent, the NATO allies led by the United States are fully focused on military withdrawal. As this has to be done within tight deadline, there have been some disagreements between the United States and the European Union. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, publicly accused the U.S. military in Afghanistan, which was responsible for the internal security of Kabul Airport, of deliberately obstructing the EU evacuation operations.

China and Russia on the other hand, are more cautious in expressing their positions while actively involving in the Afghanistan issue. This is especially true for Russia, which after both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud have pleaded Russia for mediation, Moscow has now become a major player in the issue.

Compared with these major powers, Saudi Arabia, another regional power in the Middle East, appears to be quite low-key. So far, only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia has issued a diplomatic statement on the day after the Taliban settled in Kabul, stating that it hopes the Taliban can maintain the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. Considering the role that Saudi Arabia has played in Afghanistan, such near silent treatment is quite intriguing.

As the Taliban were originally anti-Soviet Sunni Jihadists, they were deeply influenced by Wahhabism, and were naturally leaning towards Riyadh. During the period when the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the first time, Saudi Arabia became one of the few countries in the international community that publicly recognized the legitimacy of the Taliban regime.

Although the Taliban quickly lost its power under the impact of the anti-terror wars initiated by the George W. Bush administration, and the Saudis were pressured by Washington to criticize the Taliban on the surface, yet in reality they continuously provided financial aid to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda organization which was in symbiotic relations with the Taliban.

However, after 2010, with the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, the Riyadh authorities had decreased their funding for their “partners” in Afghanistan due to the increase in financial aid targets.

In June 2017, after Mohammed bin Salman became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and took power, Saudi Arabia’s overall foreign policy began to undergo major changes. It gradually abandoned the policy of exporting its religious ideology and switched to “religious diplomacy” that focuses on economic, trade and industrial cooperation with main economies. Under such approach, Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan policy will inevitably undergo major adjustments.

With the reformation initiated by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has drastically reduced its financial aid to the Taliban. In addition, Riyadh also further ordered the Taliban to minimize armed hostilities and put its main energy on the path of “peaceful nation-building”. This sudden reversal of the stance of Saudi Arabia means that Riyadh has greatly weakened the voices of the Taliban in the global scenes.

In recent years, the Taliban have disassociated with Saudi Arabia in rounds of Afghanistan peace talks. After Kabul was taken over by the Taliban on August 19, a senior Taliban official clearly stated that the Taliban does not accept Wahhabism, and Afghanistan has no place for Wahhabism. Although this statement means that Al-Qaeda’s religious claims will no longer be supported by the Taliban, it also indicates that the Taliban has reached the tipping point of breaking up with Riyadh.

Under such circumstance, for the Riyadh authorities under Mohammed bin Salman, the most appropriate action is probably wait-and-see as Afghanistan changes again.

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Gulf security: It’s not all bad news

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Gulf states are in a pickle.

They fear that the emerging parameters of a reconfigured US commitment to security in the Middle East threaten to upend a more-than-a-century-old pillar of regional security and leave them with no good alternatives.

The shaky pillar is the Gulf monarchies’ reliance on a powerful external ally that, in the words of Middle East scholar Roby C. Barrett, “shares the strategic, if not dynastic, interests of the Arab States.” The ally was Britain and France in the first half of the 20th century and the United States since then.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the revered founder of the United Arab Emirates, implicitly recognised Gulf states’ need for external support when he noted in a 2001 contribution to a book that the six monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “only support the GCC when it suited them.”

Going forward question marks about the reliability of the United States may be unsettling but the emerging contours of what a future US approach could look like they are not all bad news from the perspective of the region’s autocratic regimes.

The contours coupled with the uncertainty, the Gulf states’ unwillingness to integrate their defence strategies, a realisation that neither China nor Russia would step into the United States’ shoes, and a need to attract foreign investment to diversify their energy-dependent economies, is driving efforts to dial down regional tensions and strengthen regional alliances.

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his UAE counterpart, are headed to Washington this week for a tripartite meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The three officials intend “to discuss accomplishments” since last year’s establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries “and other important issues,” Mr Blinken tweeted.

The Israeli foreign ministry suggested those other issues include “further opportunities to promote peace in the Middle East” as well as regional stability and security, in a guarded reference to Iran.

From the Gulf’s perspective, the good news is also that the Biden administration’s focus on China may mean that it is reconfiguring its military presence in the Middle East with the moving of some assets from the Gulf to Jordan and the withdrawal from the region of others, but is not about to pull out lock, stock and barrel.

Beyond having an interest in ensuring the free flow of trade and energy, the US’s strategic interest in a counterterrorism presence in the Gulf has increased following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US now relies on an ’over the horizon’ approach for which the Middle East remains crucial.

Moreover, domestic US politics mitigate towards a continued, if perhaps reduced, military presence even if Americans are tired of foreign military adventures, despite the emergence of a Biden doctrine that de-emphasises military engagement. Moreover, the Washington foreign policy elite’s focus is now on Asia rather than the Middle East.

Various powerful lobbies and interest groups, including Jews, Israelis, Gulf states, Evangelists, and the oil and defence industries retain a stake in a continued US presence in the region. Their voices are likely to resonate louder in the run-up to crucial mid-term Congressional elections in 2022. A recent Pew Research survey concluded that the number of white Evangelicals had increased from 25 per cent of the US population in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2020.

Similarly, like Afghanistan, the fading hope for a revival of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, from which former President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018, and the risk of a major military conflagration makes a full-fledged US military withdrawal unlikely any time soon. It also increases the incentive to continue major arms sales to Gulf countries.

That’s further good news for Gulf regimes against the backdrop of an emerging US arms sales policy that the Biden administration would like to project as emphasising respect for human rights and rule of law. However, that de facto approach is unlikely to affect big-ticket prestige items like the F-35 fighter jets promised to the UAE.

Instead, the policy will probably apply to smaller weapons such as assault rifles and surveillance equipment, that police or paramilitary forces could use against protesters. Those are not the technological edge items where the United States has a definitive competitive advantage.

The big-ticket items with proper maintenance and training would allow Gulf states to support US regional operations as the UAE and Qatar did in 2011 in Libya, and, the UAE in Somalia and Afghanistan as part of peacekeeping missions.

In other words, the Gulf states can relax. The Biden administration is not embracing what some arms trade experts define as the meaning of ending endless wars such as Afghanistan.

“Ending endless war means more than troop withdrawal. It also means ending the militarized approach to foreign policy — including the transfer of deadly weapons around the world — that has undermined human rights and that few Americans believe makes the country any safer,” the experts said in a statement in April.

There is little indication that the views expressed in the statement that stroke with thinking in the progressive wing of Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party is taking root in the policymaking corridors of Washington. As long as that doesn’t happen, Gulf states have less to worry about.

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Reducing Middle East tensions potentially lessens sectarianism and opens doors for women

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Two separate developments involving improved relations between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and women’s sporting rights demonstrate major shifts in how rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world and competition to define Islam in the 21st century is playing out in a world in which Middle Eastern states can no longer depend on the United States coming to their defence.

The developments fit into a regional effort by conservative, status quo states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt; and proponents of different forms of political Islam, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar; to manage rather than resolve their differences in a bid to ensure that they do not spin out of control. The efforts have had the greatest success with the lifting in January of a 3.5-year-long Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

The reconciliation moves also signal the pressure on Middle Eastern players in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam to change perceptions of the region as being wracked by civil wars, sectarian tensions, extremism, jihadism, and autocracy. Altering that perception is key to the successful implementation of plans to diversify oil and gas export dependent economies in the Gulf, develop resource-poor countries in the region, tackle an economic crisis in Turkey, and enable Iran to cope with crippling US sanctions.

Finally, these developments are also the harbinger of the next phase in the competition for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world. In a break with the past decade, lofty declarations extolling Islam’s embrace of tolerance, pluralism and respect for others’ rights that are not followed up by deeds no longer cut ice. Similarly, proponents of socially conservative expressions of political Islam need to be seen as adopting degrees of moderation that so far have been the preserve of their rivals who prefer the geopolitical status quo ante.

That next phase of the battle is being shaped not only by doubts among US allies in the Middle East about the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor, reinforced by America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also being informed by a realisation that neither China nor Russia can (or will) attempt to replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf.

The battles’ shifting playing field is further being determined by setbacks suffered by political Islam starting with the 2013 military coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president and brutally decimated the Muslim Brotherhood. More recently, political Islamists suffered a stunning electoral defeat in Morocco and witnessed the autocratic takeover of power in Tunisia by President Kais Saied.

A just published survey of Tunisian public opinion showed 45 percent of those polled blaming Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahada party, for the country’s crisis and 66 percent saying they had no confidence in the party.

The Middle East’s rivalries and shifting sands lend added significance to a planned visit in the coming weeks to Najaf, an Iraqi citadel of Shiite Muslim learning and home of 91-year-old Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, by Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s foremost historic educational institution.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of Iraqi-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two major centres of Islam’s two main strands, that are aimed at dialling down tensions between them that reverberate throughout the Muslim world. The talks are likely to help the two regional powers manage rather than resolve their differences.

The rivalry was long marked by Saudi-inspired, religiously-cloaked anti-Shiite rhetoric and violence in a limited number of cases and Iranian concerns about the country’s Sunni minority and its opting for a strategy centred on Shiite Muslim proxies in third countries and support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Implicit in Saudi and Iranian sectarianism was the perception of Shiite minorities in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries, and Sunnis in Iran and Iraq after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein, as fifth wheels of the other.

Imam El-Tayeb’s visit, a signal of improvement in long-strained Egyptian-Iraqi relations, as well as a possible later meeting between the Sunni cleric, a Shiite cleric other than Ayatollah Al-Sistani who is too old and fragile to travel, and Pope Francis, are intended to put sectarianism on the backburner. Ayatollah Al-Sistani met with the pope during his visit to Iraq in March.

The visit takes on added significance in the wake of this week’s suicide bombing of a Hazara Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed at least 50 people and wounded 100 others. The South Asian affiliate of the Islamic State, Islamic State-Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst since the Taliban came to power in August. It was likely designed to fuel tension between the Sunni Muslim group and the Hazara who account for 20 percent of the Afghan population.

Imam El-Tayeb’s travel to Najaf is likely to be followed by a visit by Mohamed al-Issa, secretary-general of the Saudi-dominated Muslim World League. The League was long a prime vehicle for the propagation of anti-Shiite Saudi ultra-conservatism. Since coming to office, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recast the League as a tool to project his vaguely defined notion of a state-controlled ‘moderate’ Islam that is tolerant and pluralistic.

In a similar vein, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took many by surprise by allowing women into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to attend this month’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea. Iran is the only country to ban women from attending men’s sporting events. It was unclear whether the move was a one-off measure or signalled a loosening or lifting of the ban.

Mr Raisi was believed to see it as a way to rally domestic support and improve the Islamic republic’s image as much in China and Russia as in the West. No doubt, Mr. Raisi will have noted that China and Russia have joined the United States, Europe, and others in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to recognize women’s rights.

To be sure, women in Iran enjoy education rights and populate universities. They can occupy senior positions in business and government even if Iran remains a patriarchal society. However, the ban on women in stadia, coupled with the chador, the head to foot covering of women, has come to dominate the perception of Iran’s gender policies.

Allowing women to attend the World Cup qualifier suggests a degree of flexibility on Mr. Raisi’s part. During his presidential campaign Mr. Raisi argued that granting women access to stadiums would not solve their problems.

It also demonstrates that the government, with hardliners in control of all branches, can shave off sharp edges of its Islamic rule far easier than reformists like Mr. Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, were able to do.

The question is whether that is Mr. Raisi’s intention. Mr. Raisi may be testing the waters with this month’ soccer match, only time will tell.

It may be too big a leap in the immediate future but, like Imam El-Tayeb’s visit to Najaf, it indicates that the dialling down of regional tensions puts a greater premium on soft power which in turn builds up pressure for less harsh expressions of religion.

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